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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

Inside Pandora’s Box

by Lily Hamourtziadou

17 Dec 2006

Tribal leaders and political groups in Diyala are turning to terrorists and insurgents for protection, rather than trust Iraqi soldiers and police, according to the commander of US forces in the area, Col. David Sutherland. ‘This sort of unity only worsens the sectarian divide and encourages further violence,’ he said, adding that ‘these are not new problems in Iraq.’ Indeed, they are not. The level of violence we have seen since the invasion may be something new, but sectarianism was already there, contained to a large extent by Saddam Hussein’s autocratic regime. As though inside a box. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, what has come to triumph in Iraq is a sort of religious nationalism, not unlike the nationalisms of the former Yugoslavia. Following the official end of the war on May 1 2003, the US realised that they were not engaged in a mopping-up operation, but were fighting a new war, with new enemies, whose purpose was to prevent the American government, the America-friendly Iraqi government, and their allies in Iraq (Kurds and Shiites, initially at least) establishing control of the country. ‘While the new elected government had more legitimacy than the old, this did not change the balance of power on the ground,’ and ‘communities were becoming more not less fearful of each other’ (Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation; war and resistance in Iraq, 2006, p. 188). They had good reason to be more fearful now, since some of the groups had made new and powerful friends, allies they were to use against others, outside their own group. With the invasion and occupation of Iraq, those ethno-religious groups came to represent new threats: political, societal and military.

The dead this week again exceeded 600.

On Monday 11 December nearly 100 die, 4 of them young children. In Tuz Khurmato 6 members of the same family are shot dead; in Salaja, near Kirkuk, a pregnant mother is killed along with her 3 children; 5 die in a restaurant, 4 in a vegetable market, while 60 bodies are found in the streets of Baghdad.

On Tuesday 12 December the dead reach 168, about half of whom are labourers blown up by a suicide bomber pretending to offer them work. In this attack 3 children also die. Another mother is killed with her children and over 60 bodies are found in 4 cities.

More labourers die in 2 bombing incidents on Wednesday 13 December. A family of 9 is shot dead in al-Hesna, 3 of them children, while 4 more children are killed by mortars in al-Hawija. Another child is killed by an Iraqi soldier in Falluja, and bombs kill 9 Palestinians in Baghdad. Altogether around 100 people lose their lives.

Around 90 die on Thursday 14 December, most of whom are bodies found bound and tortured in Baghdad, Al-Lij, Khallisa, Mosul, Suwayra and Wahda.

On Friday 15 December more than 30 bodies are found in Baghdad and Baquba, while 4 civilians are killed in Ramadi by US fire. Altogether around 60 are killed around the country, and the Karbala Health Department receives 50 unidentified bodies for burial.

On Saturday 16 December Tony Blair pays a ‘surprise’ visit to Iraq, on a day when the Iraqi Prime Minister is holding a reconciliation meeting with leaders of various political groups. Around 150 people are killed during Saturday and Sunday, a child among them. Near Falluja 4 are killed when a US air raid destroys 3 houses on Sunday, and more than 100 bound and tortured bodies are found in 5 cities.

In this climate of fear and violence, it was a good idea on Al-Maliki’s part, though perhaps unrealistic at this point, to have a reconciliation conference in Baghdad. The Prime Minister convened leaders from various communities across the country, including members of the Baath Party, but not members of armed groups, as he did not want to include those ‘who committed crimes against Iraqis and continue today to shed the blood of innocents’ (New York Times 17 December). He clearly does not hold himself or his foreign allies responsible for the shedding of innocent blood in Iraq. Still, the purpose of the conference seemed noble enough: to attempt to form an Iraq based on national unity and not individual sects.

Is this possible? Reconciliation necessarily requires mutual respect, tolerance and trust. At present Iraqis have not, and cannot be expected to have, any of the above for each other or for their leaders. But at least they have democracy, as Tony Blair triumphantly declared during his Sunday visit: ‘The first time I arrived in this country there was no proper functioning democracy. Today there is.’ What he omitted to say was that the first time he arrived in Iraq there were no daily killings of dozens and no mass abductions. There was no chaos.

A joke was circulating among Iraqis shortly before al-Maliki met George Bush in Amman recently, Jonathan Steele reports. ‘What would the US be demanding? Answer: a timetable for Iraqis to withdraw from Iraq’ (The Guardian, 15 December 2006). The only way to save Iraq is to remove the Iraqis. It is their fault that their country is in this mess. They seem to be incapable of the ‘tolerance and moderation’ Tony Blair was preaching on Sunday in Basra.

This post-modern view of tolerance and respect as the instant solution to all conflict cannot be applied to the Iraqis, as it could not apply to Bosnians 15 years previously. At this point Iraqis would have to be mad to feel respect, to trust each other or to be tolerant. How can you trust, respect or tolerate those who are killing you? You cannot and should not. When the US and British armies attacked and invaded Iraq in 2003 they hoped to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Instead, what they found was that Pandora’s Box contained a different kind of weapon: humans capable of mass destruction. And those angry humans were not simply unleashed or let out of the box by them. They were violently kicked out of it.