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The Week in Iraq is a weekly assessment of significant incidents and trends in Iraqi civilian casualties by IBC's news collector and Recent Events editor Lily Hamourtziadou.

The analyses and opinions presented in these commentaries are personal to the author.

Recent weeks

Healing the wounds of the past
  18 Jan 2009

Happy New Year
  11 Jan 2009

The sad numbers
  31 Dec 2008

  21 Dec 2008

The farewell kiss
  14 Dec 2008

Regrets –he’s had a few…
  7 Dec 2008


The Week in Iraq

Abandoning ship

by Lily Hamourtziadou

3 Dec 2006

‘Political elite finds new home out of harm’s way’ reads the headline in the Times (2 December). Many leading politicians are moving to Britain, as living in Iraq has become too dangerous, the article reveals. Half a dozen senior figures, including ‘former prime ministers, Cabinet members, and even the heir to the Iraqi throne’, have moved to ‘fashionable areas of London’, while many others have kept second London homes. Adnan Pachachi, Iraqi MP, said that living and working in Iraq has become almost impossible, so he divides his time between his Chelsea flat and his house in Abu Dhabi.

According to Sharif Ali, head of the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement, who lives in Holland Park, West London, ‘half of the Iraqi government is abroad at any one time.’ ‘Alarming and dangerous’, is how Iyad Allawi, former Iraqi PM, described the situation in Iraq; he now lives in Kingston-upon Thames. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, former PM, has returned to Wembley, while Laith Kubba, his former spokesman, divides his time between his home in London and Washington. ‘You have to be a thug to survive in Iraqi politics today,’ he said.

Why wouldn’t they want to get out? Millions of others probably wish they could, to escape death, fear and daily struggle for survival and dignity. Unfortunately, most Iraqis have no such option. This week over 660 civilians lost their lives.

On Monday 27 November nearly 100 die, 5 of them in US raids. Among the dead, 39 bodies found in Baghdad streets.

As many bodies were discovered in Baghdad streets on Tuesday 28 November, while US air raids kill 5 young girls in Ramadi. The Iraqi Parliament votes to extend the country’s state of emergency for another month (as has been the case since November 2004), which authorises the government (and the army, Iraqi and multi-national) to impose curfews and make arrests without warrants. What it does not mention is that it also gives the go-ahead to US forces to shoot indiscriminately and to conduct raids and air strikes on whole neighbourhoods, that more and more often kill civilians.

More than 100 civilians die on Wednesday 29 November, 8 of whom are killed in another US air strike. South of Baquba a mass grave is found, containing 28 bodies. A Health Ministry Official in Diyala says that Baquba’s morgue can no longer cope with the bodies that are piling up. Health officials give residents two days to collect 19 bodies before they are buried in unmarked graves. There are reports that additional corpses are being consumed by dogs, as Baquba’s streets are too dangerous for recovery crews. Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, says in a press conference in Geneva: ‘I know of no other place on earth where so many people are killed, massacred and tortured to death.’

On Thursday 30 November a terrible month comes to an end, during which around 3,000 civilian deaths were reported in the media. This is a number that will certainly rise once morgue reports and other sources reveal more details of the violence in Iraq. On this day 50 unclaimed and unidentified bodies are buried in Karbala, while more than 60 people lose their lives.

Fighting erupts between US forces and Sunnis in Central Baghdad on Friday 1 December. In Northern Iraq, 14 Kurdish farmers are found murdered, while over 50 die around the country.

A series of bombs kills 60 in Baghdad on Saturday 2 December, bringing the day’s total to over 160. Among the day’s dead are 3 children. The Baquba morgue reveals that it has received 102 bodies in the last ten days, only 20 of which have been retrieved by their families.

On Sunday 3 December the nearly 100 dead include 3 civilians (a child among them) killed in US air strikes, policemen, a cleric, and over 70 dead bodies found in various cities.

No wonder political elites are fleeing. Iraq has become a country ruled by partisan warfare by Saddam loyalists and Shiite armies, rebellions by angry Iraqis, terrorism by extremists, organised crime, and killings, arrests and general control by occupation troops. It is truly a ‘State of Emergency’. ‘Besieged Iraqis, many with no previous affiliation with established militias, are taking up arms, barricading their communities and joining new Shiite Muslim militia cells or increasingly militant Sunni Arab neighbourhood-watch groups,’ writes Solomon Moore in the Los Angeles Times (November 28). Mortar shells pummel neighbourhoods daily, gunmen drive people from their homes and men start their day by taking up positions on rooftops. In Dora, a mostly Sunni area of Baghdad, the total force of organised fighters is around 2,500 men.

Yet still ‘in denial’, George W. Bush states that the Iraqi Prime Minister is ‘the right guy for Iraq’ and remains optimistic. ‘History deniers are many,’ writes Robert Fisk, ‘and all are subject to the same folly: faced with overwhelming evidence of catastrophe, they take refuge in fantasy, dismissing evidence of collapse as a symptom of some short-term setback, clinging to the idea that as long as their generals promise victory –or because they themselves have so often promised victory- that fate will be kind’ (The Independent, 1 December 2006). Yes, President Bush is now confident that Iraq could handle its own affairs ‘and that they don’t need foreign interference from neighbours that will be destabilising the country,’ he declared at a press conference in Amman four days ago. They could have added tinned laughter after that.