Morning roundup: Iraq, Tunisia, and the Arab soul
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Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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A suicide bomber killed about 15 in the second major attack on the Iraqi police in as many days. This one came at the police training center in Baquba, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, according to Reuters.
Yesterday's attack killed about 50 at a police recruiting center in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. An obvious reminder that the Iraq war isn't over, whether the US pulls out on time at the end of this year or not. Tikrit and Baquba have been repeatedly "pacified" over the past 7 years -- I wrote about a major US army effort to clear Baquba of Sunni insurgents in 2005. As shocking as it sounds, places sometimes don't stay pacified.
There's been some call/speculation in the press about the US military extending its stay in Iraq in response to these kinds of attacks, even though suicide attacks by Sunni Islamists have been a sort of background radiation to the Iraq war (both the one to get foreign troops out and the one being contested between Iraqis for local power). They've occurred in areas where US troops patrolled in force and in areas where they rarely went. They occurred before the surge, during the surge and after the surge.
Stopping them is now in the hands of the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has a lot of work to do to convince Iraq's general Sunni Arab population that his government will serve their interests as well as those of his coreligionists.
Tunisia's uprising/revolution appears to be entering a quieter phase. Protests were smaller and scattered today, exiled opposition politicians have returned home, and the old guard who served departed Tunisian strongman Zine El Abdine Ben Ali (who has begun his career in exile in Saudi Arabia) try to figure out how to hand on to their positions.
What comes next is hard to say. US Ambassador Gordon Gray made rather tentative remarks about the outlook to Al Jazeera."I think what we have in Tunisia is a situation where ... this democratic expression is a work in progress... And it's a new phenomenon and it's something that people are doing without very much experience."
In fact there's been little democratic expression at all so far aside from the street power that pushed out Ben Ali. Tunisia's interim government is led by the same men who helped secure his rule, and a constitution and electoral system that served his dictatorship remain in place.
Will that change or will the pressure ease off enough to convince interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and his friends to reach for the brass ring after making mostly cosmetic concessions? We'll see.