Thursday, January 02, 2014

140.3 - Bad news: Iraq

Bad news: Iraq

But while it hasn't been a good week here, it's been a worse week some other places. For instance, Iraq.

On December 30, Iraqi Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered his army to clear out a largely peaceful protest in the city of Ramadi in Anbar province in the west of Iraq. The protest, which had been going on for months and in a number of ways was similar to an Occupy encampment, was to protest what the largely-Sunni region felt to be a pro-Shia sectarian agenda on the part of Maliki.

The assault on the encampment produced heavy fighting between government forces and tribal members. Reports are that at least 17 people were killed in the clashes.

It was not the only violence in the region in recent days. Battles also broke out in other parts of the province, including Falluja.

The immediate outbreak of violence actually began on Saturday when government forces stormed the Ramadi home of a Sunni member of parliament named Ahmed al-Alwani, seeking to arrest him on vague charges of terrorism. In the shootout that followed, Alwani was wounded and his brother and at least five of his bodyguards were killed. Nearly 20 others, including members of the government forces, were also injured.

In response to the arrest and the military campaigns, forty-four Sunni Arab lawmakers have resigned from the government in protest while local political and tribal leaders demand that Alwani be released. Sunni leaders and clerics were also calling on all other Sunni members of the government to resign and on Shia parents to not let their sons take part in the military campaigns in Anbar.

Showing that he has learned his lessons from his former masters well, Maliki said this was all about fighting al-Qaeda and how ripping up the encampment was taking a "safe haven" away from terrorists. That claim was dismissed by some in the region; a tribal fighter in Ramadi said of Maliki “He thought that he can deceive the world by fighting Al Qaeda, but in reality he is fighting the Sunnis.”

The thing is, there has indeed been a resurgence of violence in Iraq, including in the capital of Baghdad. Over 8,000 people were been killed in sectarian violence in Iraq in 2013, the highest total since 2008. But blunderbuss tactics such as Maliki is employing are less likely to bring an end to such violence than they are to intensify it, as other Sunnis take up arms, attacking government checkpoints and torching military vehicles.

As negotiations between government officials on the one hand and Anbar provincial council members and tribal sheikhs on the other fail, Iraq stands now on the edge of a renewal of outright civil war.

Not a good week.


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