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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 Gift

by Lily Hamourtziadou

28 Jan 2007

The Iraqi Defence Ministry is to receive a gift of 4,000 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 1,800 Humvee vehicles and 16 helicopter gunships from the Pentagon in March, a ministry spokesman said last Monday. There is of course the added gift of thousands of troops, some already in Iraq, others due to arrive in the next few weeks, providing security…or failing to do so. They certainly didn’t do so well last week, as civilian deaths exceeded 800.

Nearly 200 are killed or found dead on Monday 22 January, when bombs blow up a market in Baghdad killing 88 people. Mortars kill another 10 civilians in Baghdad, 15 die in Khalis, 6 pilgrims are killed by mortars in Suwayra, a baby among them, a woman waiting to pick up her child from school is killed by mortars, and 30 bodies are found bound and tortured in the streets of the capital. As if that wasn’t gruesome enough, 25 heads are found around Madaen. Only some are identified.

Tuesday 23 January is the most ‘peaceful’ of the week, as only around 60 are killed. The dead include 6 policemen, 3 butchers, 2 teachers, a University Professor, 29 bodies, and 2 children –one of them a boy shot dead by US forces after spitting at their patrol.

On Wednesday 24 January there are reports of 135 civilian deaths. In Mosul 9 are killed in an attack at the Kurdish Democratic Party office, in Kut 4 members of a family are murdered, 4 die in al-Jubayl, 2 of them children, 5 minibus passengers are killed in Hibhib, and a 12-year-old boy is shot dead by US forces during a raid. Also, 89 bodies are found in Mosul, Baghdad and Tikrit.

Thursday 25 January is even worse, as 140 civilians are reported killed. Around 40 die in the worst attack, in the Karrada area of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber blows up his car in a market. Another 16 are killed in the capital, while 11 villagers are reported killed near Muqdadiya, when their villages are bombed by US aircraft. In Hit a woman is shot dead by US forces as she is crossing a bridge at night, and 61 bodies are found in Baghdad, Baquba, Dujail, Mosul, Suwayra and Muqdadiya. On this day 12 unidentified bodies are buried in Kut.

Around 70 die on Friday 26 January. In the worst attack, a bomb kills 15 at a pet market in Baghdad, a child among them. In another US air strike, 3 civilians are killed in two villages, gunmen kill 5 members of a family, and 40 bodies are found in six cities.

There are nearly 80 civilian deaths reported on Saturday 27 January. Another 15 people die when bombs explode at a market, 19-year-old twin brothers are blown up by a roadside bomb, and 51 bodies are found -5 of them bodies of teenagers, still in their pyjamas, pulled out of the Tigris river in Suwayra, south of Baghdad.

On Sunday 28 January the week ends with 144 reported deaths. In Baghdad 54 bodies are found in the streets, and two schools are hit by mortars. In one of the school attacks, 5 girls are killed when mortars hit their schoolyard, while in Ramadi 2 children are killed when their school is hit. Near Hilla another 10 people are killed, 3 of them children, car bombs kill 16 in Kirkuk, an official from the Industry Ministry is murdered along with his daughter and two other employees, 12 die in market bombings in Baghdad, another child among them, and another 10 people die in mortar attacks in Jurf al-Sakhar. Altogether 11 children die in attacks on Sunday. A further 10 bodies are pulled out of the Tigris.

Meanwhile, Health and Security authorities in Karbala have been put on high alert, in case of major attacks during a very important upcoming religious festival: the day of Ashura. The ‘most religious event in the Shiite Muslim calendar’ draws millions of pilgrims every year, who march, chant and flagellate themselves in ritualistic processions. The processions mourn the 7th century killing of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, murdered in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD on the day of Ashura. His martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shiites as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny and oppression. Attacks blamed on Sunni extremists have killed hundreds of pilgrims over the past 2 years during Ashura ceremonies. This year’s Ashura pilgrimage will end on 30 January.

Karbala is not the only city bracing itself for more violence. Baghdad has been described as ‘a city paralysed by fear’ (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 25 January 2007), where ‘Iraqi drivers are terrified of running into impromptu checkpoints where heavily armed men in civilian clothes may drag them out of their cars and kill them for being the wrong religion,’ where ‘some districts exchange mortar fire every night’ and where, in the words of Senna Ahmed, a primary school teacher, civilians are ‘caught between the hammer of the insurgents and the anvil of the troops’ (Los Angeles Times, 22 January 2007).

‘Baghdad fell in 2003 and we are still trying to pick it back up,’ writes Sabrina Tavernise, ‘but Iraq is a different country now’ (New York Times, January 28 2007). ‘I learned how much violence changes people,’ she writes, ‘and how trust is chipped away, leaving society a thin layer of moth-eaten fabric that tears easily. It has unravelled so quickly. A year ago, my interviews were peppered with phrases like “Iraqis are all brothers.” The subjects would get angry when you asked their sect. Now some of them introduce themselves that way.’

The moderates are mostly gone. The country is unrecognisable. This ‘new Iraq’ is truly America’s greatest gift.