Mikhail Gorbachev and the Iraqi Pilgrims

Despite Afghan President Hamid Karzai's and Chinese leader Hu Jintao's best efforts, Iraq is creeping back into the headlines. Militants struck for the third straight day Wednesday with two deadly attacks that killed at least seven people and wounded over ninety north of Baghdad in Diyala province. In the larger assault, a bomber blew up an ambulance "packed with explosives" outside Iraqi police headquarters. Then, again on Thursday (making it the fourth consecutive day of attacks), three suicide car bombers killed at least fifty-two and wounded one hundred fifty Shia Muslim pilgrims marching toward a shrine in Karbala, sixty miles south of Baghdad. Ten million people are expected to participate in the march over ten days, which has "has been an annual flash point for sectarian violence." All this after "the worst single attack in Iraq since late October" on Tuesday in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit that killed forty-nine Iraqis. And although the "three-month gap since the last major attack" is proof of "the progress made by Iraq security forces," there's still "a steady trickle of deadly attacks, most often focused on security forces, government officials, or in recent months, Iraq's Christian minority." (The last major attack on a single target was an October seige on a Baghdad church that killed sixty people.)

In fact, that minority gets its own New York Times front-page story. It seems that soon there won't be any Christians left to attack. Focusing on the town of Habbaniya Cece in predominantly Sunni al-Anbar province, the Times reports that what was a community of seventy Christian families prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003 has been reduced to one, with the local church no longer holding services. The town's Shia minority is also dwindling.

And reporter Michael Gordon mined "2,300 hours of of recorded meetings and millions of pages of documents captured" by U.S. forces in 2003 (well, maybe not that much data—"only a small portion of the archive" has been declassified) to give us this scoop: Saddam was furious with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—maybe more so than with President George H. W. Bush—just prior to the 1991 Gulf War. The Iraqi tyrant felt that Gorbachev had betrayed him after an eleventh-hour diplomatic proposal to withdraw Baghdad's forces from Kuwait within twenty-one days proved not enough to prevent Washington from going ahead with its land campaign. The transcripts "provide gripping new details" of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy in the run-up to war. Gorbachev, Gordon says, was stuck in the middle between wanting to "protect" the USSR's "former Iraqi client" and "unwilling to jeopardize his relations with the Bush administration." Not only was the twenty-one-day timeline too long for President Bush; Saddam's order to burn Kuwaiti oil well didn't help, either. In the end, the dictator decided that he could inflict enough casualties on the Americans to "soften" their demands.