Hakim's son preaches partition and unity as Iraq's woes abound under occupation, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad
Just before the Muslim holiday Eid started, US helicopters fired at a house in the town of Al-Tharthar, about 45 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, killing nine women and six children. American forces, as usual, said they ordered the attack because "terrorists" were hiding in the house. Local television stations aired interviews with relatives of the victims who said that a US officer wept when he saw the blood of women and children inside the house and apologised to the survivors. A relative of the victims said that apologies would not bring back the dead.
During Eid, Turkey shelled northern Iraq in retaliation to the killing of 13 Turkish soldiers by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) last week. Turkey had repeatedly threatened to enter northern Iraq to eliminate PKK bases. It is noteworthy that EU countries and the US view the PKK as a terrorist organisation. According to US sources, Turkey massed 60,000 troops on its border with Iraq. The Turkish government said it was waiting for the approval of the parliament before sending its army to chase down PKK members inside Iraq.
The recent escalation was exactly what a security agreement signed lately by the Iraqi and Turkish governments attempted to avoid. The agreement called on the Iraqi government to prevent Kurdish fighters from staging attacks against the Turkish army and on Ankara to refrain from sending Turkish troops inside Iraq.
The Kurdistan regional government said it was neither helping the PKK nor offering it safe haven. The PKK fighters, Kurdish authorities claimed, were hiding in inaccessible mountain areas in northern Iraq. Several Kurdish officials called on the central government to defend Iraq's northern borders. Turkey said it wouldn't stop its shelling until Iraqi authorities hand over PKK leaders.
According to the Iraqi News Agency, a group of peshmerga (Kurdish militia) arrived in Najaf to set up a temporary residence for the family of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government. Unconfirmed reports in Irbil claimed that Turkish commandos were planning to land in Irbil and arrest Barzani.
Meanwhile, the Committee for the Defence of the Health of Abdullah Ocalan distributed a statement calling on "our patriotic Kurdish people in Kurdistan and the nations of the region" to press Turkey to release information about Ocalan's health and improve the conditions of his detention.
The Iraqi Turkomen Front (ITF) said that should Iraq break into federal states, it would ask for a Turkmeneli, or Turkomen homeland, to be set aside. But the ITF added that it was still committed to a united Iraq. The number of Turkomen in Iraq was 560,000 in 1957, when the country's population totalled six million. In that same year, most Kirkuk inhabitants were Turkomen. Now Iraq has a population of around 26 million, but Kurdish officials maintain that the Turkomen are only a few thousand in number.
Due to the illness of Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, his son Ammar delivered the Eid sermon at the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) headquarters last Saturday. He called for a federal state in southern Iraq, saying that such an arrangement wouldn't imperil the unity of the country. "I call on the sons of our people to form their own provinces, starting from the province that is south of Baghdad to all other provinces. This is an Iraqi interest, an Iraqi decision, and an Iraqi resolve. We remain committed to maintaining the unity of Iraq as a land, people and government," Ammar Al-Hakim said.
A few weeks ago, Moqtada Al-Sadr and Abdu-Aziz Al-Hakim decided to stop the fighting between the Mahdi Army of Al-Sadr and the Badr Forces of SCIRI in order to stem Iraqi blood. Sadr supporters are incensed by Ammar's recent statements. Ammar is "flirting with the US scheme to divide Iraq," said one source close to Al-Sadr. Sami Al-Askari, adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, said that, "federalism in the south would lead to fighting among the Shias themselves due to economic differences and disagreement on numerous matters."
In an unprecedented step, Ammar Al-Hakim visited the turbulent governorate of Al-Anbar where he met clan leader Ahmed Abu Risha in what may signal the start of Sunni-Shia reconciliation. According to AFP, the meeting between Ammar Al-Hakim and Abu Risha took place last Sunday in Al-Ramadi under heavy US security measures. This was the first visit by a senior SCIRI official to Ramadi, 100 kilometres west of Baghdad, a stronghold of Sunni resistance.
Abu Risha is leader of the US-backed Sunni clan alliance fighting Al-Qaeda. His brother Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, founder of the Anbar Revival Conference, was killed last month in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda. Following his arrival in Al-Anbar, Ammar Al-Hakim said that Iraq doesn't belong to Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Arabs, or Turkomen, but to all Iraqis.