With the security situation continuing to deteriorate across Iraq, few Iraqis believe in the process of reconciliation, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad
Last May was labelled the bloodiest month in Iraq since 2008, with, according to the UN, 1,045 people killed and 2,397 wounded, among them tens of children, women and university students.
The last week of the month saw the public tea-house wars, with many of the latter being targeted, both in Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad and other cities and killing tens of civilians.
The escalating violence in the country has made its top political and religious figures call for a meeting in the home of Ammar Al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, in Baghdad in response for a call for this to take place.
The meeting took place last Saturday, and a significant picture was taken of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki embracing the parliamentary speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi, both of whom have been engaging in a media war against the other for months.
However, no tangible measures were announced as a result of the meeting, and further meetings have been announced.
By last Saturday, Baghdad was under intensive security intended to protect pilgrims marking the 1,250th anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Al-Kadhum, the seventh Shia Imam and grandson of the Imam Ali, whose shrine is in the Kadhimiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad.
The security measures will be in place by the end of today, and there are hopes that the tension in the country will reduce.
“Nobody can predict the situation,” said Fadhil Fahmi, a professor of political science, who added that “reconciliation cost the Iraqis hundreds of civilian causalities, while last April and May were the bloodiest months Iraq has seen for some time. It will not be an easy reconciliation, but Iraqis need to believe in it.”
“The Iraqi people and politicians say that the terrorists are using the ongoing political crises in the country and that the violence is just the liquidation of political accounts. But if this is so, why are they just waiting for the tension to reduce?”
Outside the capital, the violence continues, and military operations are ongoing to deal with the terrorists responsible. General Ali Ghydan, the commander of the Iraqi army, said that the so-called Al-Shabah (ghost) Operation, carried out by military and police forces supported by helicopters in the western desert of Iraq where Al-Qaeda is active, had taken place.
Ghydan said that the Al-Akhira (last) Operation would now begin, with the aim of dealing with terrorists in the Diala province 90km north-east of Baghdad and other nearby provinces.
However, if the posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites are anything to go by, few Iraqis, especially younger ones, have trust in the reconciliation process, stressing the harshness of the security situation in Baghdad before the meeting at the home of Al-Hakim.
“I need help finding a country that will give me asylum,” wrote Walid, a young Iraqi, on his Facebook page, adding that “this is not a place to live. There is no place to survive”.
Walid’s page indicated that he was 18 years old and that he wrote poems, was a dreamer, and was in a lasting relationship.
He had lost two close friends in the bombing of a tea-house in his neighbourhood one evening in the last week of May when car and roadside bombs killed 58 and wounded more than 200.
Facebook has become a way for Iraqis to make their voices heard, even if no official is ready to hear them. Young Iraqis write on Facebook about the unofficial checkpoints that have re-emerged in Baghdad and on the main roads in the capital where tens of people have been kidnapped and killed.
“It seems that the government has lost control of the situation,” said Omar Ali, a PhD student who was in a tea-house that was attacked recently, adding that “we were chatting while having tea when all of a sudden there was a bang and flames. We later found out that a bomb had been left under a chair.”
Ali said that there had been more than ten attacks within ten minutes in Baghdad, meaning that the government had lost control of the situation.
Hayder Hassan, a teacher, said that “what makes me angry is the ongoing use of the golf-ball detector at check points to detect explosives. Why does the government think that Iraqis can’t read and write? We all know that the British businessman who sold these things to Iraqi officials and businessmen was sentenced to 10 years in jail for fraud while his Iraqi partners are free.”
“The continuing use of these fake detectors means that the government has no respect for Iraqi blood and security.”
“Baghdad will turn into a ghost town again,” said Amal Aziz, a pharmacist, adding that “I remember the days I stopped going to my pharmacy in the afternoon and the whole of Baghdad had closed its doors by 2pm.”
Amal’s daughter Asma, a student, said that “this time even locking the door at night will protect no one as militia members come by at night and kill whomever they please.”
“It is an unannounced sectarian war,” said Ahmed Kamil, a father who had lost his shop two week ago and found nothing since to earn a living. “It is obvious that political disputes are at the root of the attacks. The politicians are after power and money at the expense of Iraqi blood. There are also politicians who are only interested in regional interests, again at the cost of Iraqi blood.”
Taha Jazzaa, a university professor and writer, said that “all of us are stuck in this country. We have no other choice but to try to repair the sails of this broken ship we are in. If not, it will sink and we will have no hope of escape.”
No official or parliamentarian has been ready to answer people’s questions.
“Most MPs are outside Iraq enjoying their holidays,” said one journalist speaking on condition of anonymity. He added that he had “met officials who had refused to admit the existence of the fake checkpoints and the militias in the streets or had not enough information about them.”
“A new security plan has been announced to confront the new violence, yet those whom I met felt that this was a black joke.”
Iraqis are now asking themselves how much longer the present wave of violence will continue and who is at the root of it. Tears and blood, closed doors, open Facebook pages, and attempts at finding a solution — the Iraqis realise that there are no hands out there reaching out to support them.