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After three years in which annual civilian casualties in Iraq have been in the region of 4000-4500, 2013 saw this rate more than doubling to 9472.

IBC's Lily Hamourtziadou takes note of this change and some of the reasons behind it, and what they might mean for Iraq's future.

The Trenching of Faults: Iraq 2013

An overview of the year’s violence against civilians

First published  1 Jan 2014 

Fault Lines

There were fault lines in Iraq before 2003. The state was weak economically, after years of wars and economic sanctions; it was weak politically, with an unpopular dictator, at home and abroad; it was weak societally, clearly divided into Sunnis, Shias and Kurds.

The fault lines were to widen so much that they reached the size of trenches. Many factors contributed to that. The initial unprovoked attack of 2003 by one of the world’s most powerful states was the first one. It was followed by years of occupation, insurgency, terrorism and increasingly competing interests. Internally, the interests of the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kurds, the religious fanatics, the secular, the non-Muslim; externally, the interests of the US and the UK, Iran and Syria, all of which want to expand their political and ideological sphere of influence at any cost. Those competing interests led to the internal collapse of Iraqi society and remain the sad legacy of the invasion.

The struggle for power

National power is composed of quantitative and qualitative factors: geography, resources, industrial capacity and military capabilities; national character, national morale, quality of government. In all of these, Iraq has been stripped of any power it may have had. The resources it was lucky to have, due to its geographical location, are being exploited by others, while a third of the population live below the poverty line. Its army was dismantled by its occupiers and is still struggling to regroup and manage the daily violence. Whatever national character and morale it had before, it lost in a sea of betrayals, collaborations, mutual attacks and accusations, while its government, elected twice under occupation, only inspires mistrust and revolt among its people.

Iraq is now a fragmented state, where each party struggles to gain power, at the expense of the others, as they have incompatible security requirements, which means that the security of each cannot be assured at the same time as the security of its rivals or enemies. Thus they seek relative gains, where their own gain is a loss to another, rather than absolute gains, which require cooperation. In a state as weak and fragmented as Iraq, all sides see the struggle for power and its acquisition as a means to their survival.

Iraq 2013

The year started with protests and rising discontent. The Sunnis demanded reforms, while the government of Nouri al-Maliki abandoned any efforts to be cross sectarian, targeting Sunni politicians, arresting and interrogating and forcing some into exile. After the April 23 protest turned violent and the Iraqi Security Forces attacked protesters, killing 49 of them, the retaliation resulted in the number of civilian deaths tripling in the next 6 months. While 1,900 civilians were killed between October 2012 and March 2013, 6,300 were killed between April and October 2013.

Overall, nearly 9,500 civilians died in violence in Iraq this year, which is almost equal to the 2008 figure, when 10,000 were killed. Back in 2008, however, that figure represented a decline in violent deaths (down from 25,800), whereas now it represents an increase; it has more than doubled since last year, when the recorded civilians deaths were 4,500.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has found fertile ground in all this discontent and has attacked the Iraqi government, as the Syrian government is being attacked this year, 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.

As the Sunnis protest and feel their government has failed them, so the Shia protest and they too feel their government has failed them, by failing to protect them. Civilians have continued to die every day this year. Daily they are still blown up, shot, stabbed, abducted and beheaded. Yet among all the death and savagery, a glimmer of hope and humanity, as Ayyub Khalaf, a 34-year-old policeman and father of two, throws his arms around a suicide bomber, sacrificing himself to protect the Shia pilgrims, on December 18. Let him serve as a symbol, a hope that not all is lost.