Iraq is less violent than a year ago, but the country is still the most dangerous in the world. So it was no surprise to anyone in Baghdad, where people have long dreaded a renewal of al-Qa’ida’s savage bombing campaign directed at Shia civilians, that there should be suicide attacks on two bird markets, killing 92 people on Friday.
For all President George Bush’s claims of progress, cited in his final State of the Union address last week, Baghdad looks like a city out of the Middle Ages, divided into hostile townships. Districts have been turned into fortresses, encircled by walls made out of concrete slabs. Police and soldiers check all identities at the entrances and exits.
“People say things are better than they were,” says Zainab Jafar, a well-educated Shia woman, “but what they mean is that they are better than the bloodbath of 2006. The situation is still terrible.” [complete article]
Last year, the Royal British Legion took 1,485 calls from homeless ex-service personnel desperate for help. By law, former forces personnel should be offered accommodation as a priority, yet councils fail to honour their obligations, largely because of long waiting lists. Others are denied a chance to own a home because the heightened risk of suicide among those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan means they can’t get life insurance to guarantee a mortgage.
The stories of Brown, Hayley Murdoch, Dave Hart and Andy Julien, told here for the first time, lend weight to the consensus that the military covenant – the guarantee of a duty of care between the government and the armed forces – has faltered. Collectively, they present a tale of broken marriages, thwarted careers, psychological breakdown and isolation. Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the opening salvos of an Iraqi conflict steeped in controversy and confusion. Now it is the war in Afghanistan that is muddied in a quagmire of uncertainty. The intractability of fighting in Helmand province promises British casualties for years to come. [complete article]