The New York Times reports: A family of five killed in their home. A group of men shot dead in a field. Eight bodies, tied up in cable, discovered on a farm, each with a bullet in the head.
More than 300 Iraqis have been killed this month in bombings and shootings in markets, along roadsides, near schools and mosques, and in bakeries. On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council condemned the recent spike in violence in Iraq and the deliberate targeting of places where civilians congregate.
But on Wednesday, the daily tally of violence took on an air of pinpoint deliberation with the execution-style killings of several groups of civilians, a grim reminder of the worst days of sectarian warfare in the country. While major bombings have become common, the killings reintroduced the prospect of a resurgence in the type of violence that rattled Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
The bodies of the eight young men tied in cable were found on a farm in Jubor, a Sunni city south of Baghdad, the same place other bodies had been dumped during the sectarian turmoil seven years ago.
The bodies of five men shot in the head and chest were found in an open field in Shula, a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, the authorities said.
The five family members, including two boys and a girl, were killed by gunshot in their house in Hurriya, a Shiite-majority neighborhood of Baghdad, the police said. They were identified as Sunni, but no further information about them was immediately released.
The 18 dead were among at least 40 people, including security forces, who were killed in attacks across Iraq on Wednesday. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Iraqi Kurdistan has finalized a comprehensive package of deals with Turkey to build multi-billion dollar oil and gas pipelines to ship the autonomous region’s rich hydrocarbon reserves to world markets, sources involved in talks said on November 6.
The deals, which could have important geo-political consequences for the Middle East, could see Kurdistan export some 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to world markets and at least 10 billion cubic meters per year of gas to Turkey.
Such a relationship would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when Ankara enjoyed strong ties with Iraq’s central Baghdad government and was deep in a decades-long fight with Kurdish militants on its own soil.
But Turkey imports almost all of its energy needs and growing demand means it faces a ballooning deficit, making the resources over its southeastern border hard to ignore.
Reuters reports: A dozen bombings in Iraq killed 55 people on Sunday as the prime minister prepares to travel to Washington to seek President Barack Obama’s help in confronting a wave of sectarian violence fuelled by Syria’s civil war.
Killings, mostly blamed by the Shi’ite-led government on Sunni Islamists from al Qaeda, are running at daily rates not seen in five years and Nuri al-Maliki will ask Obama on Friday to speed up promised deliveries of drones and F-16 jets that he believes can help staunch the long desert border with Syria.
Iraq’s own security forces, trained and equipped by the U.S. troops who withdrew in late 2011 after a nine-year occupation, have been unable to prevent a surge in violence which has taken the civilian death toll so far this year to about 7,000. Sealing the Syrian border would only address part of the problem.
On Sunday, police reported 11 vehicles blowing up in mainly Shi’ite Muslim areas in and around Baghdad, killing 41 people in an apparently coordinated series of explosions typical of al Qaeda. A further 14 people were killed when a suicide bomber drove up to a line of soldiers waiting to collect their pay from a bank in the northern city of Mosul and detonated his car.
The Associated Press reports: First came the fireball, then the screams of the victims. The suicide bombing just outside a Baghdad graveyard knocked Nasser Waleed Ali over and peppered his back with shrapnel.
Ali was one of the lucky ones. At least 51 died in the Oct. 5 attack, many of them Shiite pilgrims walking by on their way to a shrine. No one has claimed responsibility, but there is little doubt al-Qaida’s local franchise is to blame. Suicide bombers and car bombs are its calling cards, Shiite civilians among its favorite targets.
Al-Qaida has come roaring back in Iraq since U.S. troops left in late 2011 and now looks stronger than it has in years. The terror group has shown it is capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks several times a month, driving the death toll in Iraq to the highest level in half a decade. It sees each attack as a way to cultivate an atmosphere of chaos that weakens the Shiite-led government’s authority.
Recent prison breaks have bolstered al-Qaida’s ranks, while feelings of Sunni marginalization and the chaos caused by the civil war in neighboring Syria are fueling its comeback. [Continue reading...]
Time reports: Early Monday morning, more than a dozen car bombs ripped through mostly Shi‘ite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 50 people and leaving dozens lying bloodied in the streets. The worst attack that day was in heavily Shi‘ite Sadr City, where a man parked a white car near an area where day laborers gather; a bomb inside erupted, killing seven people and wounding 16.
Such reports have become commonplace over the past few months, as violence in Iraq has escalated to levels unfathomable in almost any other country, and by any metric — death tolls, frequency, geographic distribution — it’s becoming worse. For decades, the Baath Party of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, composed mostly of secular Sunnis, ruled Iraq’s majority Shi‘ite population and ruthlessly kept a lid on sectarian tensions. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion overturned the Saddam regime, Shi‘ites controlled the new government. This year, violence in Iraq has been largely the result of a Sunni bombing campaign aimed at the Shi‘ite-dominated political status quo. The civil war in neighboring Syria — itself a volatile, sectarian conflict — has spilled across the border, and Sunni jihadi factions are operating in both countries. Now, four months before the next parliamentary elections, Iraq increasingly appears to be spiraling toward a civil war.
Since 2006, when Iraq then under U.S. occupation convulsed in sectarian bloodshed, violence has been driven mainly by internal divisions, and after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011, the Shi‘ite-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been unable to stop the killing. “The struggle for power is not conducted along neat Shia versus Sunni or Islamist versus secular dividing lines,” a May report by British think tank Chatham House explained. “However, issues of identity, rights and interests have often found sectarian expression in periods of upheaval and transition.”
It’s spreading as well. Until this weekend, much of the violence has occurred in Baghdad and its environs, largely sparing Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in the north. For most of the past decade, Iraq’s Kurdish region has been immune to the bloodshed. When American troops occupied Iraq, no American soldiers were killed there. But this weekend, as the results of the region’s parliamentary elections were announced, suicide bombers in the Kurdish capital Erbil attacked a building housing the Kurdish security forces, setting off gunfights in the streets. According to the regional government, six attackers and six members of the security forces were killed.
Iraq’s tumultuous year began when the Shi‘ite-dominated government’s security forces raided the home of Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, touching off antigovernment protests in several provinces. In April, security forces clashed with protesters and Sunni gunmen in the northern city of Hawija, leaving dozens of mostly Sunnis dead. More than 700 people were killed in April alone.
Attacks then picked up in the spring and summer. According to the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in July, the deadliest month in the country since sectarian violence peaked in 2006 and ’07. More than 800 were killed in August, and the U.N. estimates that nearly 1,000 were killed in September. Since the April protests began, more than 5,000 Iraqis have been killed in the violence. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The orange archway at the entrance to this farming community welcomes visitors in “peace.” The lush palm groves are heavy with ripe dates. For generations, Shiite and Sunni families worked the land, earning a living from their sheep and cows, their wheat fields and lemon trees.
On a recent morning, though, the only talk was of how to stop them from killing one another.
The latest strategy: new concrete walls with separate entryways for the different sects.
“So there’s a Sunni way in, and a Shiite way in,” Abu Jassim, a Sunni resident who recently fled his home after sectarian revenge killings by Shiite gunmen, explained to a local representative in Parliament.
During the worst of Iraq’s carnage over the last decade, this area of Diyala Province, a mixed region where Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds still compete for power, faced killings and displacement. But what is happening now, villagers say, is worse — what one Western diplomat described in an interview as “Balkans-style ethnic cleansing.”
Iraqi leaders worry that the violence here may be a sign of what awaits the rest of the country if the government cannot quell the growing mayhem that many trace to the civil war in Syria, which has inflamed sectarian divisions, with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites backing the Assad government. Attacks have become more frequent this year, with major bombings becoming almost a daily occurrence. The violence countrywide has increased to a level not seen in five years, according to the United Nations, reinforcing fears that the type of sectarian warfare that gripped the country in 2006 and 2007 will reignite. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A new wave of car bombs rocked commercial streets in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday, part of a series of attacks across the country that left 33 dead.
Meanwhile, Sunni leaders in Basra said unknown gunmen had shot dead 17 Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated southern city over the past two weeks, following threats to retaliate against them for attacks on Shiites in other parts of Iraq.
Car bomb attacks blamed on hard-line Sunnis aiming to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government, coming alongside revenge killings by Shiites, are reminiscent of the cycle of violence that brought the country to the brink of civil war some years ago. A surge of bloodshed is now in its fifth month, although overall death tolls are still lower than at the height of the conflict in 2004-2008. [Continue reading...]
Samir Goswami writes: In the bloody shadow of Iraq’s recent surge in violence lurks another troubling statistic: this year, Iraq has executed nearly 70 people accused of terrorist-related activities, including 17 men and women last month alone. Let me be clear, the death penalty should be abolished everywhere, including in the United States. Tragically in Iraq, though, it seems the death penalty has become a key component in Baghdad’s counterterrorism strategy.
And the trend is headed in the wrong direction. A recent Amnesty International report showed that in 2012, Iraqi executioners killed at least 129 people, almost twice as many as the previous year, putting Iraq in third place among countries using the death penalty (the United States was fifth, with 43).
With reports showing that more than 1,000 people were killed in sectarian and terrorist attacks in July alone, it is easy to understand why Iraqi authorities might seek desperate measures. But violence thrives where justice, due process, and human rights are denied. Continuing that cycle of violence by executing people only serves to further erode confidence in the government’s ability to protect its citizens, especially when its own institutions do not live up to their own standards.
Simply put, adherence to the rule of law grounded in human rights principles can help prevent violence. This is especially true for fragile governments that are trying to instil confidence in their core governance responsibilities. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A wave of car bombings and other attacks in Iraq killed at least 53 people on Sunday. The recent increase in violence, the worst since 2008, has raised fears that the country is returning to the level of killing that pushed it to the brink of civil war after the 2003 US-led invasion. More than 4,000 people have died since the start of April, including 804 just in August, according to the UN.
Sunday’s deadliest attack was in the city of Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, where a car bomb near an outdoor market killed nine and wounded 15, a police officer said. A few minutes later, another car bomb went off nearby, killing six and wounding 14.
In the nearby town of Iskandariya, 30 miles south of the capital, a bomb went off in a car park, killing four and wounding nine, police said. Another car bomb went off in an industrial area of the Shia city of Kerbala, killing five and wounding 25, a police officer said. Kerbala is 50 miles south of Baghdad. In the aftermath, security officials inspected burnt-out cars in front of what appeared to be a smashed row of workshops. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, the highest monthly death toll in five years, the U.N. said Thursday, a grim figure that shows rapidly deteriorating security as sectarian tensions soar nearly two years after U.S. troops withdrew from the country.
Violence has been on the rise all year, but the number of attacks against civilians and security forces has spiked during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began early last month. The increased bloodshed has intensified fears that Iraq is on a path back to the widespread chaos that nearly tore the country apart in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Months of rallies by Iraq’s minority Sunnis against the Shiite-led government over what they contend is second-class treatment and the unfair use of tough anti-terrorism measures against their sect set the stage for the violence.
The killings significantly picked up after Iraqi security forces launched a heavy-handed crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija on April 23. A ferocious backlash followed the raid, with deadly bomb attacks and sporadic gunbattles between insurgents and soldiers — this time members of the Iraqi security forces rather than U.S. troops.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi writes: An alliance combining Shiite and Sunni currents in Baghdad succeeded last Saturday, June 15, in forming a local government without the participation of the State of Law Coalition. The latter was the largest winning bloc in the local elections held this past April. This step represents a development that will have major implications on the course of the political conflict in Iraq and the general election scheduled for 2014.
Despite the success of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition in obtaining 20 of 58 seats in Baghdad, the Al-Ahrar bloc, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, won 11 seats; the Sunni Mutahidoun block, led by Osama al-Nujaifi, obtained seven seats; the Citizen bloc obtained six seats and around 14 seats were distributed over other blocs and minority quotas. The way the seats were distributed allowed these forces to come together and form a government that excluded the biggest winner in the elections.
At first glance, it seems that this distribution, according to which the local government of Baghdad was formed on Saturday, is wide-ranging, inconsistent and incompatible at key points. It also seems that the State of Law Coalition will overcome its loss by trying to attract small blocs in the Baghdad Council to change the current government, a scenario that may be realized in the coming months. There is, however, another scenario that is more attainable, which involves the new alliance in Baghdad achieving greater harmony and making this experience a prelude to changing the political map in the general elections in 2014.
Not only does Baghdad have the largest population in Iraq (about 8 million), but its local government may have the means to tame the sectarian sensitivities, which are becoming more dangerous in Iraq and the region.
The Sunni Mutahidoun bloc was given the most prominent legislative position in the city — head of the provincial council — while the position of governor was allocated to the Sadrist movement, and Ammar al-Hakim’s party obtained the position of mayor of Baghdad. This represents a new step in understanding the nature of the conflict in Iraq and finding a way to resolve it. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: More than 1,000 people were killed in violence in Iraq in May, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, the United Nations said on Saturday, as fears mounted of a return to civil war.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the last two months as al Qaeda and Sunni Islamist insurgents, invigorated by the Sunni-led revolt in Syria and by Sunni discontent at home, seek to revive the kind of all-out inter-communal conflict that killed tens of thousands five years ago.
“That is a sad record,” Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy in Baghdad, said in a statement. “Iraqi political leaders must act immediately to stop this intolerable bloodshed.”
The renewed bloodletting reflects worsening tensions between Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government and the Sunni minority, seething with resentment at their treatment since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and later hanged.
Al Jazeera reports: Fresh attacks in Iraq, including car bombs in Baghdad, have killed at least 19 people, including police officers, amid a surge of violence that has left 160 dead in a week and increased fears of all-out sectarian conflict.
On Thursday morning, a car bomb in northeast Baghdad killed four people and wounded a dozen more, while another vehicle packed with explosives went off in the centre of the capital, leaving two dead and 10 wounded, officials said.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that at least eight policemen were killed in the northern city of Mosul after unknown gunmen opened fire on local officers.
“There has not been a claim of responsibility for the attack. But in the past an al-Qaeda front group has claimed responsility for attacks on Shia areas and security forces, which they see as illegitimate,” she said.
Two border policemen were also ambushed along the main Iraq-Jordan highway and shot dead.
The latest violence came a day after multiple bomb blasts struck two neighbourhoods in the Iraqi capital, killing at least 28 people, including several members of a wedding party.
Reuters reports: More than 70 people were killed in a wave of bombings in markets in Shi’ite neighborhoods across Baghdad on Monday in worsening sectarian violence in Iraq.
No group claimed responsibility for the blasts. But Sunni Muslim Islamist insurgents and al-Qaeda’ s Iraqi wing have increased attacks since the beginning of the year and often target Shi’ite districts.
More than a dozen blasts tore into markets and shopping areas in districts across the Iraqi capital, including twin bombs just several hundred meters apart that killed at least 13 people in the capital’s Sadr City area, police and hospital officials said.
“A driver hit another car and left pretending to bring traffic police. Another car rushed to take him away and right after his car exploded among people who had gathered to see what was happening,” said bystander Hassan Kadhim. “People were shouting for help and blood covered their faces.”
Tensions between the Shi’ite leadership and the Sunni Muslim minority are at their worst since U.S. troops left in December 2011, and the conflict in Syria is straining Iraq’s fragile communal balance.
Hadeel Al Sayegh writes: Last month for the first time, I saw the aftermath of a bombing in Iraq, at the entrance to Baghdad Airport.The explosion had occurred a few moments before our plane landed from Abu Dhabi.
Several cars had parked at Abbas Bin Firnas, the final checkpoint before the airport, where people say farewell to their loved ones. By the time our car passed the scene, it was evacuated and all that was left was the burnt black frames of the vehicles. Scores of people died.
My father, who panicked when he saw the news on TV, was relieved to see me at his construction site in Baghdad with all my limbs attached.
He was talking to several engineers, one of whom told him that security officials found a bomb at the entrance of a nearby mosque while he was performing his prayers. They were lucky to have defused it just in time. The consensus was that an attempt to re-ignite sectarian divisions was imminent.
Little did we know that Iraq would unravel so quickly. Violence has always occurred on the outskirts of the capital and in more remote areas in the country. But today, almost three weeks later, even Baghdad is not immune.
In the past, attacks would target public areas such as markets, restaurants and cafes but now the perpetrators are focusing on places of worship – Sunni and Shia mosques.
Eighty-six people died on Monday; it was the bloodiest and deadliest day of the year. [Continue reading...]