Bloggers are evaluating an apparent Iraqi victory over insurgents in Najaf, examining Hillary's campaign performance in Iowa, and bemoaning what high corn prices are doing to the Mexican tortilla market.
Soldiers of Heaven: American-backed Iraqi forces killed upward of 250 insurgents in Najaf on Sunday. Most of the insurgents belonged to the group "Soldiers of Heaven," which reportedly is made up of Sunni, Shiite, and foreign elements. The group had plans to attack Shiite holy sites in Najaf this week during Ashura. (Here's a primer on the Shiite holiday.)
Many bloggers did not know what to make of this group, whose name has also been translated as Soldiers of the Sky or Heaven's Army. Middle East scholar Juan Cole's Informed Comment examines the narratives emerging about the nature of the battle: "It seems most likely that this was Shiite on Shiite violence, with millenarian cultists making an attempt to march on Najaf during the chaos of the ritual season of Muharram. But who knows? It is also possible that the orthodox Shiites in control of Najaf hate the heretic millenarians and the threat of the latter was exaggerated. Darned if I know. The reports of the Army of Heaven being so well armed make no sense if it was a ragtag millenarian band. But those reports could be exaggerations, too," he writes.
Examining the war's latest twist, Spencer Ackerman at Too Hot For TNR is aghast at the emergence of such a group: "Shiite death cults! … Can we talk about this for a second? The Iraq war is so fucking awful that even some Shiites -- beneficiaries of the political process , remember -- would rather blow up their own shrines and bring on the apocalypse than continue to, you know, live. Somehow I don't think this will come up in Admiral Fallon's nomination hearing tomorrow. We don't need Petraeus in Iraq, we need Buffy the motherfucking Vampire Slayer."
Pointing a finger at Iraq's eastern neighbor, the conservative Bullwinkle Blog ponders the origins of the foreign fighters said to belong to Soldiers of Heaven: "I wonder how many of the 'foreign fighters' just happened to be Iranians like the mortars. … I can find little information online about either Jund al-Samaa or Soldiers of Heaven so they seem to be a pretty new group. I think there's a good chance it's founded/funded/trained/armed by Iran."
While the makeup of the insurgent group is still uncertain, conservative Ed Morrissey is celebrating the victory at Captain's Quarters: "It seems clear that the Iraqis won a major victory against perhaps the most well-organized and resourced attack by insurgents in almost four years of fighting. That may answer critics who have questioned the fighting character of the new Iraqi army, who took the lead in winning the battle."
"Republicanpundit" at Hang Right Politics offers to pitch in and help if things continue along this positive trajectory: "If this is a sign that we are finally taking off the gloves and killing the terrorists by the minute, then I am officially signing on for the 'Surge'."
Dave Schuler at conservative Outside the Beltway views the battle in a different light: "Aren't large pitched battles like this characteristic of insurgencies that believe they are on the upswing? Not particularly good news."
Read more about Najaf and the Soldiers of Heaven.
Iowa lukewarm on Hillary: Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton made her first obligatory trip through Iowa this weekend. The reception to her performance, which included a joke about the "evil and bad men" in her life, was varied.
Liveblogging the TV coverage of Hillary's Des Moines town-hall meeting, law prof and moderate Ann Althouse was irked by the amount of gender-focused questions Clinton received: "How I'd have loved to hear something like: You know, what's ironic here is that I'm a woman, and you're undervaluing me, asking me questions about women's things, and not treating me like someone who is offering to take on the work that genuinely belongs to the office I'm seeking."
Taking the opposite view is Chuck Todd at the National Journal's Hotline: "Catching up with the Hillary coverage from Iowa yesterday, I have found it fascinating that she decided to embrace the gender aspect of her candidacy. Iowa hasn't been kind to female candidates for anything... ever. That said, I think it's a smart strategy; The only way Clinton can be a 'change' candidate is by emphasizing her gender."
Read more about Hillary's trip to Iowa.
Corn in crisis: Tortilla enthusiasts south of the border are suffering as the price of corn—the main ingredient of their unleavened bread—soars. With ethanol-based energy coming increasingly into vogue, corn prices have hit record levels on the world market. "Mexico is in the grip of the worst tortilla crisis in its modern history," the Washington Post writes.
Ending on a great corn metaphor, t0mmy berg at conservative Bang Path is disappointed that the president supports subsidizing ethanol: "[Ethanol] is a political boondoggle which benefits a very small group of people and corporations. … The remaining tatters of respect ordinary freedom loving conservatives have for Bush flutter away on a gentle breeze from the drying husk of a dying presidency."
Alexander Hamilton at Low Review, a satirical legal blog, is loath to see a favorite cuisine suffer: "[T]he increase in demand for corn, due to its expanding use in Ethanol, is causing a dramatic rise in the cost of tortillas! a rise in cost means less demand, which means less diversification of the end product: mexican food! … And that my friends, is why we need to stop using Ethanol to curb our oil-appetite. Becasue my appetite for Mexican food is mush greater."
Read more about ethanol and the rising price of corn products.