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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

Immunity
  21 Dec 2008

The farewell kiss
  14 Dec 2008

Regrets –he’s had a few…
  7 Dec 2008

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The Week in Iraq

'The mud is getting wetter'

by Lily Hamourtziadou

11 Mar 2007

The long-awaited Baghdad conference has yielded little. The meeting appears to have been largely cordial, but delegates from Syria, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, did not set a date for a second, higher-level gathering of Foreign Ministers; They agreed only to establish working groups to focus on various issues. During the conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded that states ‘refrain from having a share or an influence in the Iraqi state of affairs, by trying to induce a certain sect, nationality or party.’ Iran’s chief delegate, Abbas Araghchi, a Deputy Foreign Minister, openly criticised US actions in Iraq, saying that ‘they have made so many mistakes and wrongdoings…because of the false information and intelligence they had at the beginning.’ ‘For the sake of peace and stability,’ he warned, ‘we need a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces,’ as the presence of foreign troops fuels the violence.

The daily violence remains Iraq’s greatest problem. Contrary to statements from President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that there are ‘encouraging signs’ of progress in Iraq, and that ‘things are going reasonably well,’ the violence this week was at the usual high levels. There has been no ‘dramatic decrease’ in attacks, as 675 civilians were reported dead this week, most of them pilgrims on their way to or returning from Karbala; moreover, there was another major attack with over 50 deaths, the 8th this year. As the Iraqis say, ‘the mud is getting wetter,’ meaning that things are getting worse.

On Monday 5 March over 100 are killed, most of them in Baghdad. A suicide bomber kills 39 in Baghdad’s old book market, 8 pilgrims die in two attacks on their way to Karbala, and 26 bodies are found in Baghdad alone. Among the victims, a 3-month-old baby, killed when a rocket hit his house in Basra.

In the worst attack of the week, 120 pilgrims on their way to Karbala are killed by suicide bombers near Hilla, on Tuesday 6 March. Overall, around 170 pilgrims die on Tuesday in Baghdad, Tarmiya, Khalis, Tikrit and Hilla, while police find 32 bodies in Baghdad and Mosul. The death toll of the day is 240.

Another 90 people die on Wednesday 7 March. In Baghdad a suicide bomber kills 22, most of them policemen, while another suicide bomber blows up 32 people in a café in Mandali.

Thursday 8 March is a peaceful day, for Iraqi standards, as only 35 people are reported dead. A child killed by mortars is among the dead, as are 3 displaced family members returning to their home in Hibhib.

Another ‘peaceful’ day is Friday 9 March, when another 35 people die across Iraq. Among the victims are a father and his two young daughters shot dead by US soldiers in Baghdad for failing to stop their car when ordered to do so. Under heavy guard, the Prime Minister ventures out in Baghdad to demonstrate that the security crackdown is making good progress.

Much less peaceful is Saturday 10 March, for over 70 civilians die, mainly in Baghdad. A suicide bomber kills 22 in Sadr City and police find 34 tortured bodies in Baghdad.

On Sunday 11 March the week ends with 100 victims of violence. In Baghdad 32 pilgrims in a minibus are blown up by a bomber as they return from Karbala, another 10 are killed in Sadr City and a further 5 in the centre of the capital. Among Sunday’s victims are 2 boys killed by mortars as they play football, 5 construction workers blown up in Balad Ruz, a man killed by US fire in Basra, and 26 bodies found in the streets of Baghdad, Muqdadiya and Daquq.

In the political sphere, things are not going so well either. On Wednesday, a Shia Islamist party allied to al-Maliki withdrew from Iraq’s ruling coalition. The Fadila or Virtue party’s criticism of al-Maliki’s government as ‘sectarian’ lay behind its withdrawal from the coalition. Fadila is a branch of the radical Sadrist movement built by cleric Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr in the 1990s, but does not acknowledge the leadership of his son, Moqtada al-Sadr, to whom most Sadrists are loyal.

Despite claims that the security plan is showing signs of progress, the number of US troops needed to carry out President Bush’s plan could approach 30,000, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday. US military commanders in Iraq have been requesting varying numbers of support troops to augment the additional 21,500 soldiers Bush has already ordered into combat. This, despite the Iraqi Prime Minister’s rather angry remarks that states should not interfere or influence the Iraqi state of affairs. Ironically, although by now predictably, there are no reports that al-Maliki has objected to this plan.

Iran’s warnings that the vicious circle of violence -where the presence of foreign troops is fuelling attacks and leading to high levels of violence, which is then used to justify the necessity of the troops- cannot be broken until foreign armies withdraw, rather than increase, from Iraq, have gone unheeded. With more American soldiers arriving in Iraq and with ineffective attempts to reach some international consensus on political and security matters, the mud could get wetter still.