vendredi 8 juin 2007

Nothing to celebrate

Marking months that have witnessed nothing but massive civilian casualties, Al-Maliki's media mouthpiece celebrates a year of "achievements". Nermeen Al-Mufti takes note

Operation imposing law, meant to bring security back to Baghdad, has run out of steam. According to official sources, 1,591 civilians were killed in May, most of them in Baghdad. Dead bodies are once again appearing in the streets, 600 of them were found in Baghdad last month alone. The month of May proved to be one of the deadliest so far for US forces, with 122 troops killed. Reporters Without Frontiers has called for the setting up of a special police unit to investigate the death of media workers following the death of 12 journalists in Iraq in May.

Sectarian militias, which fled Baghdad at the start of imposing law in February, are back. And "invisible hands" are once again trying to fan sectarian sedition, first with an attack on the mausoleum of Sheikh Abdel-Qader Al-Kilani in central Baghdad, then with an attack on a Shia religious facility in south Baghdad. Several dominantly-Sunni neighbourhoods of Baghdad, including Al-Fadhil, came under mortar fire, and at least one attempt was made to break through the concrete barriers around Al-Adhamiya. Sectarian militias have successfully driven dozens of Sunni families from the dominantly- Shia neighbourhood of Al-Amil.

In Al-Amiriya in western Baghdad, the Islamic Army clashed for two days with gunmen believed to be members of Al-Qaeda. Saad Al-Samaraai, a teacher who lives in Al-Amiriya spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that, "fierce clashes broke out on Thursday morning between the Islamic Army and the Ishrin Revolution Brigades on one side and the Islamic State of Iraq group on the other. Various types of weapons were used in the clashes. The Iraqi and American forces watched the clashes from a distance and didn't intervene."

According to Al-Samaraai, the wounded were taken to mosques rather than to hospitals, because the roads were too hazardous to negotiate due to the fighting. The Ishrin Revolution Brigades issued a statement denying any involvement in the clashes and called on other parties to stop the fighting because "such clashes can only benefit the occupying forces."

Meanwhile, US helicopters continued to shell Al-Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a Shia group that is suspected of involvement in sectarian attacks. The air raids and the searches intensified following the abduction of five British contractors (private security specialists) from the Finance Ministry building in central Baghdad last week. The abductions were blamed on the Mahdi Army, but the office of Moqtada Al-Sadr denied involvement in the incident. However, The Sunday Times quoted an anonymous Iraqi source as saying that the Sadr group had released a statement with conditions for the release of the abducted Britons. These included a demand that British forces stop patrolling Al-Basra, release the detained leaders of the Mahdi Army, and stop assassinating commanders of the organisation.

As US losses mounted in Iraq and the US congress started applying pressure to bring back the troops, President George Bush decided last Friday to send a prominent Iraqi specialist, Meghan O'Sullivan, to Baghdad to monitor the work of the Iraqi government. The US is said to be considering a policy of "containment" in Iraq in the event its current strategy fails. The former commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez, said that the US cannot win the war in Iraq unless it changes its plans and strategy. According to US sources, O'Sullivan will monitor the performance of Nuri Al-Maliki's government and help it push the oil law through parliament.

Unconfirmed reports say that US and British military officials met secretly in Iraq with representatives of the various resistance groups. Two groups from the disbanded Baath Party are said to have consented to US and Iraqi conditions for joining the political process. Also, a representative of Ezzat Al-Duri, the former Baath official believed to be organising the resistance, is said to have met Prime Minister Al-Maliki. But sources close to the Iraqi resistance said that, "there will be no talks or negotiations with the occupation forces unless an immediate timetable for withdrawal is set."

In the first days of June, 14 US soldiers were killed in Baghdad and other parts of the country and a US helicopter was downed in Diyali. Pictures of the helicopter were published on the Internet, and the Islamic State of Iraq group claimed to have downed the aircraft.

Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraqi (SCIRI), returned to Najaf from Tehran recently, having undergone two weeks of treatment for lung cancer. SCIRI is now considering a successor, and the most likely candidate is the son of the current leader, Ammar Al-Hakim.

Prime Minister Al-Maliki has visited Irbil for talks about the oil law and the status of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex, citing Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. Al-Maliki reiterated his government's commitment to the constitution.
"What exactly were Iraqi legislators thinking when they wrote the constitution?" asked Aydin Aksu of the Iraqi Turkoman Front. "Article 140 is a major flaw in the constitution, which should have been a social contract. No constitution in the world has an article that mentions dates and solutions. Such matters are normally left to the law to handle."
The Iraqi parliament held several heated debates over Article 140, with the Kurds threatening to withdraw from the political process should the said article be revoked or temporarily suspended, as some parties suggested.

Al-Maliki called on Turkey not to go into northern Iraq to chase members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. However, a Turkish military build-up has started on Iraq's borders.

As security conditions continue to deteriorate in the country, bridges and roads have become primary targets. A major bridge linking Baghdad with Kirkuk in the area of Suleiman Bey, about 85km south of Kirkuk, was blown up. A part of the highway linking Al-Jameaah with Al-Adl districts in west Baghdad was bombed. And Baghdad still suffers from power cuts and a shortage of water and gasoline.

Meanwhile, the Al-Sabah, mouthpiece of the Iraqi government, has run a supplement marking a year since Al-Maliki took office and praising the achievements of the "national unity" government.

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