Picture: Iraq War - Delta Force of Task Force 20 alongside troops of 3rd Battalion | Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2014

Iraq Glides Towards Civil War

By Bernhard Schell | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BEIRUT (IDN) – Ten years after the United States led invasion of Iraq in what was dubbed as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, the strategically placed country in Western Asia suffered in 2013 the highest annual death toll in five years, and 2014 has started amidst heavy fighting between government troops and Sunni militants. They captured large parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, two cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province that were at the centre of the armed resistance to the US occupation a decade ago.

According to figures disclosed by the United Nations, a total of 8,868 people, including 7,818 civilians, have been killed and 17,981 injured in violent attacks across Iraq in 2013 – the highest annual death toll in the war-torn country in five years.

“This (death toll) is a sad and terrible record which confirms once again the urgent need for the Iraqi authorities to address the roots of violence to curb this infernal circle,” said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Nickolay Mladenov.

He condemned “the level of indiscriminate violence in Iraq” and called on Iraqi leaders “to take the necessary steps to prevent terrorist groups to fuel the sectarian tensions which contribute to the weakening of the social fabric of society.”

The significance of the growing tension is highlighted by the fact that Iraq, where 60-67% are Shia and 33-40% Sunni, borders with countries where – except Iran (89% Shia, 9% Sunni) – Sunni Muslims are in overwhelming majority: Turkey (72% Sunni, about 25% Shia); Kuwait (60-70% Sunni, 30-40% Shia); Saudi Arabia where Sunni Islam is the state religion; Jordan where 90% of population adhered to Sunni Islam in the late 1980s; and Syria where Sunnis make up 74% of the total.

In December alone, at least 759 Iraqis were killed and another 1,345 wounded in terrorist attacks and violence, reports the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNIRAQ), which monitors the impact of armed violence and terrorism on Iraqi civilians.

According to UNIRAQ, Baghdad was in 2013 the worst affected area in Iraq for civilian casualties, with 809 (including 254 killed), followed by Nineva (331 casualties), Salahadin (262 casualties) and Diyala (260 casualties).

As RT network reports, UNIRAQ is not the only organization that counts casualties in the country. The Iraq Body Count (IBC) project, a web-based effort to record civilian deaths in Iraq, recently released its own report.

According to IBC, nearly 9,500 civilians died in violence in Iraq in 2013. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq has found fertile ground and has attacked the Iraqi government … by killing members of its army, its police force, its politicians and journalists, as well as its Shia population. Indeed, the last six months have seen the massacres of entire families, as they sleep, or travel to a holy place, sometimes 5, sometimes 12 family members at a time… The faults are now as wide and as deep as trenches,” the IBC reports.

‘The Year of Carnage’

Dubbed by RT “the year of carnage”, Iraq indeed saw its deadliest time since 2008. After the bloodiest period of 2006-2007, the tensions seemed to ease a little a result of the US military’s “surge” strategy. However, after US troops left in 2011 Iraqis were left to come to terms with nearly a decade of war. It soon became clear that the deep inter-ethnic fissures that almost tore the country apart were merely bandaged, but not remedied.

Hardly a day goes by in Iraq without dozens killed or injured in numerous blasts outside schools, mosques or crowded markets, as the terrorists and sectarian gangs kill indiscriminately, including women and children, the disabled – and even pilgrims who come to worship Allah. Almost every day, mourners stand near coffins draped in shrouds during the funerals of victims killed in this all-too regular violence.

Writing for the World Socialist Website, Bill Van Auken said: “The violence and fatalities have soared since last April, when the Shia-based government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a violent crackdown on a Sunni protest camp erected in the northern town of Hawija, resulting in the deaths of roughly 50 civilians.”

A similar crackdown on December 30 against a protest encampment in Ramadi touched off the upheavals that left that city, Fallujah and several smaller towns largely in the hands of antigovernment insurgents. In a crude attempt to defuse popular opposition, Maliki followed dispersal of the protest camp, in which at least 10 people were killed, with an apparent concession to one of the protesters’ demands, announcing the next day that he was removing army troops from Sunni population centers in Anbar and leaving security to the regular police.

Van Auken continues: By January 1, however, heavily armed militants laid siege to police stations in Ramadi and Fallujah, releasing at least 100 prisoners, grabbing weapons stocks and burning a number of buildings. For the most part, the police abandoned their positions without putting up a fight.

Maliki then reversed his earlier decree and ordered the reinforcement of army units in the area, which prepared to lay siege to the towns, with artillery shelling parts of Fallujah by Thursday and air strikes reportedly carried out against both that city and Ramadi.

“Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and the other half is in the control” of armed tribesmen, the AFP news agency quoted an Interior Ministry official, who said that in Ramadi there was a similar situation, with some areas controlled by ISIL and others controlled by tribesmen.

AFP quoted one of its correspondents in Ramadi as saying he witnessed “dozens of trucks carrying heavily armed men driving in the city’s east, playing songs praising ISIL” and carrying “black flags of a type frequently flown by ISIL.”

Linked to Al Quaeda

According to Van Auken, ISIL, a Sunni Islamist militia movement linked to Al Qaeda, has become one of the main components of the “rebels” fighting in the Western-backed war for regime-change in neighboring Syria. Having seized control of territory in northern Syria, it has proven capable of moving forces back and forth across the Syrian-Iraqi border to stage car bombings, assaults on military and police units, and sectarian attacks. Its stated aim is the establishment of a Sunni Muslim caliphate spanning both countries.

Maliki, Van Auken adds, had seized upon the actions of the ISIL forces as a pretext for violently suppressing the wider Sunni protest movement that has been provoked by the Baghdad government’s sectarian bias, which has resulted in political marginalization and repression against the Sunni population.

This has included the persecution of Sunni politicians and their aides as “terrorists.” On the eve of the latest crackdown, security forces raided the home of parliament member Ahmed al-Alwani in Ramadi, arresting him and killing his brother and five guards. The move prompted the resignation of 44 members of parliament, most of them Sunni.

Issuing an ultimatum in December the dispersal of the protest camp, Maliki described it as “the headquarters for the leadership of Al Qaeda.”

This self-serving government narrative seeks to obscure the fact that Maliki’s own sectarian policies have fueled bitter resentment within the Sunni population, driven by lack of services, indiscriminate “terror” raids, imprisonment of thousands without charges, and a de-Baathification program that has been used to expel public workers from their jobs writes Van Auken.

The pretense that the government is simply engaged in a war on Al Qaeda terrorism has been utilized to secure backing from both Iran and Washington. The latter recently ordered shipments of Hellfire missiles and other advanced weaponry to the Iraqi security forces. Some of these missiles were reportedly used Thursday in the government assault on Fallujah.

New acts of violence were recorded elsewhere in Iraq as the military confrontation shaped up in Anbar. A suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck filled with explosives on a crowded commercial street Thursday night in Balad Ruz, about 45 miles northeast of Baghdad. At least 19 people were killed in the blast and 37 were wounded. Such attacks have become a daily occurrence, targeting both Shia and Sunni populations.

“The Iraqi people are paying the terrible price for more than a decade of US imperialism’s predatory wars and colonial-style aggression. The eight-year American occupation claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, while imposing a political system that utilized sectarianism as a means of dividing and conquering the country’s population. The Maliki regime is the product of that system,” Van Auken writes in WSWS.

He adds: “Now, the US-instigated sectarian civil war in neighboring Syria has provided a new and powerful impulse for civil war in Iraq itself, with Washington’s allies, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies, providing material aid to Sunni Islamist fighters on both sides of the border, even as Washington itself continues to prop up the Maliki regime with military aid.” [IDN-InDepthNews – January 03, 2014]

Picture: Iraq War – Delta Force of Task Force 20 alongside troops of 3rd Battalion | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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