Iraq Body Count urgently needs your support to keep track of casualties - help us with a donation now


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 Hero

by Lily Hamourtziadou

18 Mar 2007

As those around him fled in panic, Ahmed Draiwel ran with the bomb in his arms toward a rubbish pile, where he planned to hurl the explosive parcel. When he realised he wouldn’t make it, he began praying, and then the parcel bomb blew up in his arms, killing him. A vendor in a Sadr City market, 18-year-old Ahmed Draiwel sold vegetables from his stall, and was not armed or on a mission to save anybody. Disposing of bombs was not his job, yet he saved everyone at that market on 15 March, when he spotted a suspicious parcel, picked it up and shouted to everyone to get away. He saved everyone but himself.

Ahmed was one among 450 people who died this week, people whose stories cannot all be known or told. As the 4-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, the number of civilians killed in this war has now exceeded 65,000, of which 26,500 died in the fourth year alone.

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.

Violence in Iraq is rising at an ‘unbelievably rapid pace’, according to the Pentagon’s latest assessment of the security situation. It is now higher than at any time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The quarterly report ‘Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq’ said the level of violence in Iraq ‘in all specific measurable categories’ has reached ‘the highest level on record’ and poses a ‘grave threat’ to the Iraqi government. Iraqi civilians have paid the heaviest price, as their casualty rate has remained 60% higher than in February, when the Golden Mosque was bombed. The number of attacks on US and Iraqi troops, as well as civilians, has risen to almost 1,000 a week, in recent months, between 12 August and 10 November. This constitutes a 22% increase in attacks and a 2% jump in civilians casualties, compared to the three previous months. Most casualties were Iraqi, despite the fact that 68% of the attacks targeted US-led coalition troops. The report further said that that Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia has replaced al-Qaeda in Iraq as the single largest threat to the country’s security. It was generally admitted in December that ‘we’ are not winning the war in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group report, published on December 5, confirmed what many had already admitted and many more already realised: ‘Current US policy is not working.’ The situation in Iraq is ‘grave and deteriorating,’ the report explains, as Iraq is ‘sliding toward chaos.’ The government could collapse and a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ may result, they warned. Moreover, ‘there is no path that can guarantee success.’

The conflict in Iraq is now regularly 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 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.

In an attempt to calm Iraq’s sectarian violence and begin a process of reconciliation, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, one of the least stable regions in the country, to meet tribal Sunni leaders and local officials last week.

It was a good idea. Not such a good idea was to go there accompanied by top US Gen. David Petraeus and his troops. ‘Maliki and Petraeus flew together from Baghdad in a convoy of Black Hawk helicopters…While Petraeus met his soldiers and ventured into the centre of Ramadi, Maliki stayed under heavy security on the US military base, Camp Blue Diamond, and held meetings inside a palace built by Saddam Hussein’ (Washington Post, 14 March 2007). This ‘symbolic’ visit, the Washington Post reports, was not even al-Maliki’s idea, but happened after Gen Petraeus urged him to ‘come and visit your folks.’ In one neighbourhood, Petraeus walked through the streets, speaking with residents, and as he headed back to the convoy stopped at a house, spoke a few words in Arabic and, looking at his soldiers, told the family: ‘Meet your new neighbour.’ If al-Maliki wants to reconcile the Sunnis and the Shias in Iraq, under his rule as a strong leader of all Iraqi groups, within a sovereign Iraq, he is certainly not going about it the right way. All he has achieved so far, in this now barely functioning state, is to show himself allied to the occupying forces, which are trusted just by 18% of the population, according to the latest polls.

Just three days after the prime Minister’s visit to Ramadi, Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr called upon followers inside his stronghold of Sadr City to resist US forces in the capital. In a message to them distributed at the Kufa mosque in southern Iraq, he urged them raise their voices and shout ‘No America, no Israel, no, no Satan.’ His statement continued: ‘And here you are standing up for the support of your beloved city; this city which the occupier wanted to harm, and tarnish its reputation by spreading false propaganda and rumours and claiming that there are negotiation and collaboration between you and them. But I’m sure that you consider them as your enemies’ (Washington Post 17 March 2007). On Friday 16 March thousands of his followers demonstrated in several parts of Iraq.

Meanwhile insurgent attacks continue, despite the dispatch of more than 20,000 additional US troops. Insurgents are confronting the surge strategy head-on, killing civilians daily; over 2,500 civilians were killed in the past month, since the launch of the surge on 14 February, by insurgents, US troops, death squads, al-Qaeda and various unknown attackers. This summer troop levels will top 160,000, compared with the 150,000 at the time of the invasion.

In the words of James Baker, former US Secretary of State, Iraq is in 'a helluva mess,' and has been in a State of Emergency for more than a year. With no sign of any significant improvement in terms of its security or its political situation, Iraq will need a lot more heroes.