The United States and Iran exchanged words this weekend over which country will have continued influence over Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal in ten weeks. Meanwhile, at least four Iraqis were killed and 11 more were wounded in the latest violence, and hundreds of Iraqis were arrested on alleged ties to the Ba’ath Party.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded Iran that the U.S. presence in Iraq would remain strong for years despite the withdrawal of "combat troops" at the end of December. In an interview from Uzbekistan, Clinton said, "no one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward." U.S. Representative Ron Paul re-iterated the idea that the United States will remain in Iraq for years to come, both militarily and financially, but considers the continued occupation to be detrimental to both Iraqi and U.S. interests.
Although U.S. forces are set to leave Iraq under a S.O.F.A. agreement, the U.S. government had tried to get Baghdad to agree to an extension. That plan fell apart when Iraq refused to grant immunity to the troops. A small residual force of "trainers," however, is expected to remain behind. Also, the state department will maintain it’s own "private army" composed of contractors. Drone aircraft and spies will also remain in use.
Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called all these state department employees and security personnel "occupiers" and said they should be resisted. He claims there would be no need to maintain his Mahdi Army if all the occupiers would leave.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad countered the warning with his own predictions that "a change will occur," intimating that the "special relations" between the two countries will become stronger despite continued U.S. involvement. An Iraqi analyst, Ihsan al-Shammari, further warned that Tehran’s loss of Syria as an ally will make the Iraq connection an urgent concern and could have negative consequences on Iraq if Baghdad does not comply with a closer relationship to Iran.
Back home, security forces arrested over 170 people suspected of belonging to the now-outlawed Ba’ath Party. Mass arrests took place across the country. Some of the detainees were former military personnel and others may have once belonged to the party. During the Saddam era, moving forward politically meant joining the party, regardless of personal beliefs.
Baghdad has long blamed an underground Ba’ath Party movement for many of its problems, and many suspect the the Iraqi government uses such accusations for its own benefit.. The last massive accusations of party membership occurred during the run-up to the elections. Hundreds of candidates were refused the opportunity to participate over dubious evidence, and the blanket ban helped Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stay in office.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi oil official was killed and his driver was wounded when gunmen attacked their vehicle. A bomb wounded four people, including one civilian, when it exploded near the al-Nahda intersection.
A shootout near Baquba left one dead and another wounded.
Gunmen killed a teacher and wounded his wife during a home invasion in Samarra.
Gunmen killed a man and wounded a woman at a market in Jurf al-Sakhar.
Last night in Mussayab, a bomb wounded three people.