jeudi 21 juin 2007

Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad

Business as usual in Baghdad

The US acknowledges that restoring security in Iraq could take another 10 years, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti

Despite the security plan in Baghdad and other areas, the violence continues unabated. A non-governmental organisation operating in Karbala announced that 53 suicide operations took place last month, compared with 27 in January. According to a well-informed Iraqi source, 100 civilians are killed on average everyday.

The bombing of the two minarets of Imam Askari's mausoleum in Samaraa set off another wave of bombings that the media dubbed the war of the mosques. The Imam Askari mosque and mausoleum was partially bombed in February 2006, an act that set off a bloody cycle of sectarian violence in the country. The recent destruction of the mosque's two golden minarets comes less than a month after an attempt to bomb the mausoleum of Sheikh Abdul-Qader Al-Gailani.

The bombing was followed by attacks on Sunni mosques and mausoleums in Baghdad and Basra. In all about 20 mosques were attacked. In Basra, the mausoleum of Talha Bin Obeid Allah was destroyed in an operation carried out by men dressed as Interior Ministry personnel. Sunni and Shia clerics denounced the attacks, so did Ayatollah Al-Sistani and the Association of Muslim Scholars. Many point an accusing finger at foreign and regional quarters with a vested interest in fuelling sectarian strife in the country.

Speaking after a visit of Al-Askari's mosque, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that a number of the mosque's guards were involved in the bombing. A group of Interior Ministry personnel are said to have ordered the mausoleum's guards to leave on Tuesday before last. The two minarets were bombed the next day.

Moqtada Al-Sadr called on Iraqi Shias to participate in a peaceful march to Al-Askari mosque, carrying olive branches and dressed in mock shrouds. He urged the Sunni population of Samaraa to throw flower petals in their path and invite them into their homes.

Al-Sadr's senior aid Sheikh Aws Al-Khafaji, however, accused Iran of serving as a "strategic ally" for the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq.
Al-Khafaji said the Iranian intelligence was "involved in sabotage in south Iraq". He claimed to have reliable information to the effect that Iranian intelligence services had set up an operations room under an officer named Mohamed Taqwa with the aim of destabilising southern Iraq. The Iranians, he said, "recruited a large number of security officials in the area, specifically those who joined the army and the police as part of the militia re-integration plan". The Iranians are providing "considerable support" to Al-Qaeda operatives in the south and central parts of the country, he added.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament is busy debating the replacement of its speaker, following an attack by the speaker's bodyguards on a parliamentarian from the Shia Alliance Block. The speaker, Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani from the Sunni Reconciliation Block, apologised for the attack, but both the Shia and Kurdish blocks are still demanding his resignation. A parliamentarian from the Alliance Block told a regional newspaper that Al-Mashhadani was "prone to collision" with the two largest parliamentarian blocks.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad for the fourth time since being appointed, and the second visit this month. His arrival in Baghdad coincided with the start of a new US operation to control the outskirts of Baghdad.

Recently, US troops raided a house belonging to Al-Qaeda in northern Baghdad, where they found the identity cards of two US soldiers who had been abducted early last month in southern Baghdad. Washington is said to be displeased with the slow pace of national reconciliation and the government's failure to pass the laws on the governorates' council and oil.

Gates came to Iraq to assess the security situation. Although Bush had promised security progress by September, the country seems to be heading towards more turmoil. The commander of the occupying forces in Iraq, David Petraeus, said that his troops would need at least 10 more years to accomplish their mission.

Speaking to Fox News, the commander said that it would be difficult for Iraq to achieve set targets in the next "one or two years", adding that anti-insurgence operations may last "nine or 10 more years at least".

Iraqi Defence Minister Abdul-Qader Al-Obeidi said that the government was in control of 386 of 430 districts in Baghdad. Of the remaining 44 lawless districts, 33 were in the dominantly-Sunni Al-Karkh area and 11 in the dominantly-Shia Al-Rasafa neighbourhood.

However, according to US sources, about 60 per cent of Baghdad is still outside of government control. The commander of ground troops, General Raymond Odierno said that there was a "long way" to go before the government imposed its control and cleared Baghdad from sectarian militia and Al-Qaeda. He said that only 40 per cent of the city was very safe, while 30 per cent was out of control and another 30 per cent was unsafe.

A three-day curfew was imposed on Baghdad following the bombing of Al-Askari's mausoleum. Despite that, 10 unidentified bodies were found lying in the streets in those three days.

The death toll among the occupation forces rose to 54 since the beginning of June. A videotape released on the Internet by a group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq said the group had executed 14 policemen and army personnel because the government refused to meet its demands. There are no statistics available on casualties among Iraqi troops and police.

Meanwhile, a Turkish threat to conduct a military operation in northern Iraq has set off a heated debate in the country. Parliamentarian Methal Al-Alusi, who visited Israel in 2004, voiced his opposition to Turkish intervention and called for PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) fighters to be given asylum.

Turkish Chief of Staff Yasar Buyukanit said that his forces would not attack any position in northern Iraq flying an Iraqi flag. Following the statement, eye witnesses said that Iraqi flags appeared on several Kurdish border positions in Iraq.

Finally, parliamentarian Hussein Al-Falluji said that the government has failed to treat Iraqis equally. "The government supports one sect against another, humours one group and clamps down on another." He claimed that the US administration was arming certain groups in some Baghdad areas, and that the government only belatedly asked for this practice to be discontinued. "The Americans arm who they think can help them, but we don't know who can," Al-Falluji remarked.

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