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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

The end of a dark year

by Lily Hamourtziadou

31 Dec 2006

‘The end of a dark period in Iraq,’ is how President Bush described Saddam Hussein’s execution on Saturday 30 December 2006, as if Saddam Hussein’s deeds had been the only factor contributing to Iraq’s ‘dark period’. Yes, it was at least a ‘dark year’, 2006, possibly the worst year in Iraq’s recent history and a year in which Saddam Hussein was in custody. This year has now come to an end, yet Iraq’s ‘dark period’ is far from over.
It was a truly violent year, as around 24,000 civilians lost their lives in Iraq. This was a massive rise in violence: 14,000 had been killed in 2005, 10,500 in 2004 and just under 12,000 in 2003 (7,000 of them killed during the actual war, while only 5,000 killed during the ‘peace’ that followed in May 2003). In December 2006 alone around 2,800 civilians were reported killed.

This week there were over 560 civilian deaths reported.

On Monday 25 December over 80 die, while 73 unclaimed bodies are buried in Karbala.

On Tuesday 26 December the dead exceed 120, with 8 children among them. As bombs kill 50 people in Baghdad, a bomb outside a primary school kills 3 children in Tikrit, and another bomb hits a passing car killing a mother with her 3 young children.

Over 80 are killed on Wednesday 27 December, among them the head of Shaheed Allah, Sahib al-Amiri, shot dead by US forces. The incident is very controversial, as al-Amiri was an alleged close associate of Moqtada al-Sadr, and the circumstances surrounding his death are contested by the US military. One thing they agree on: al-Amiri was killed by a force of 43 troops (Iraqi and American) who went to his house in the early hours of the morning to ‘question him’. He was shot four times on the roof of his house, as he tried to escape.

Over 80 are killed on Thursday 28 December as well, 12 of them blown up by a suicide bomber as they wait in line to buy kerosene.

Around 60 die on Friday 29 December, over 100 on Saturday 30 December, and, surprisingly for Iraq, only 30 on Sunday 31 December. Sadly, 2 of the victims in Sunday’s bombings are children.

December 2006 was a bad month for US troops in Iraq as well: it was the deadliest month in two years, with as many as 111 American soldiers reported killed. Reports suggest that more than 700 US troops were killed in Iraq during 2006. Overall, it seems US military deaths have reached the 3,000 mark since the start of the war.

During this year, two reports outlined the terrible, and worsening, situation in Iraq: the Iraq Study Group and the Pentagon quarterly report. Both painted a picture of violence, despair and pessimism. George W. Bush was forced to admit that the US was ‘not winning’ the war in Iraq.

For the first time this year the conflict in Iraq was described as a ‘civil war’ in the media. The warring parties, the Shia and the Sunni, appear to be fighting for, among other things, control of Baghdad. The Shia in particular are increasingly hostile to the occupation, with 62% of them approving of armed attacks on US-led forces. The militias have all grown stronger during the year, as the army and police forces seem unable to provide security. 1.6 million of Iraqis have now fled from Iraq, to escape the violence and the poverty. In a country rich in oil, supplies of electricity, water, gasoline and kerosene remain inadequate.

It was also reported that 2006 was the worst year for reporters in over a decade, with Iraq once again proving the most dangerous place in the world for the media to work. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), 113 reporters and media staff were killed in Iraq in 2006, the highest death toll since 1994, when scores of reporters died in the Rwandan genocide. RSF also says that 25 media assistants also died in Iraq in 2006. Almost 90% of the journalists killed were Iraqi.

The number of suicides is also increasing in Iraq. Suicide, a rare phenomenon in Iraq, is now ten times more common than it was in previous years. Based on statistics from the Baghdad mortuary and hospitals in five regions, the Ministry of Health said that about 20 people have been committing suicide each month since January. Thirty others attempted suicide but were saved.. ‘The numbers are high when compared to those during Saddam Hussein’s regime when we used to have one or two suicide cases a month,’ said Ahmed Fatah, member of the suicide investigation department at the Ministry of Health. The country’s continuing violence has had more psychological effect on the less privileged: the poor and the uneducated. If, on those 20 suicide cases per month we add another 20 suicide bombers, we come up with a very depressing 40 suicides each month.

Perhaps the most alarming report of 2006 was the one concerning Iraqi youngsters. ‘Children are the most affected by the tragic events,’ Dr. Khalil al-Kubaissi, a psychotherapist in Falluja told IPS (Inter Press Service). ‘Their fragile personalities cannot face the loss of a parent or the family house along with the horror that surrounds them. The result is catastrophic, and Iraqi children are in danger of lapsing into loneliness or violence.’ The difficulties of children have become particularly noticeable this year, as children are suffering the psychological results of the insecurity around them, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions. Three wars since 1980, a refugee crisis, loss of family members, poverty, suicide attacks, bombings, raids by soldiers and death squads, have shattered young Iraqis both physically and mentally. As early as April 2003, the UN Children’s Fund had estimated that half a million Iraqi children had been traumatised by the US-led invasion. Since then, the situation has degenerated drastically.

Iraq’s dark period is far from over. And its end will not come, as long as nobody is listening to its victims. The voices of Iraqi people have so far been largely ignored, by their elected politicians and by their occupiers/liberators. ‘One policy available to US planners,’ says Noam Chomsky, ‘is to accept the responsibilities of aggressors generally: to pay massive reparations for their crimes…and to attend to the will of the victims. But such thoughts are beyond consideration, or commentary, in societies with a deeply rooted imperial mentality and a highly indoctrinated intellectual class.’ (Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Michael Albert, December 27, 2006). Such thoughts are generally beyond the consideration of those ruling the Iraqi people, who are content to let Iraq fall deeper and deeper into its darkness, while they themselves sit within their own dim light.