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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

For the dead

by Lily Hamourtziadou

22 Apr 2007

‘We will bury him even if he isn’t our son,’ said one man.

Hundreds of distraught relatives frantically tried to distinguish loved ones from a grotesque pile of charred bodies, burnt beyond recognition. For some, a ring, or teeth was all there was to pick out their children, their parents, their siblings. Some were unsure whether the putrid remains were their relatives, yet came back later to retrieve the corpse, to bury it, even if it wasn’t their flesh and blood.

The Adnan family has no details of precisely what happened to their three sons on Wednesday 18 April, when bombs killed over 200 people in Baghdad. One son, Muntada, is in a coma; another, Mudrick, is dead; the oldest, 19-year-old Mortada, is missing. ‘We know he is dead,’ Mr Nashmi, a cousin, said ‘we just can’t figure out which body is his. They are all burnt so badly.’ ‘I hope I die soon,’ he added. ‘I don’t want to see more friends die, or see my father and brother die. It will be better if I die first.’ Then he set off to pick through the carbonised bodies one more time. (New York Times, 19 April 2007)

Over 700 civilians were killed this week in Iraq, nearly half of them on Wednesday 18 April. The attack on 18 April is the 13th major attack in 2007 where over 50 civilians were killed in a single incident (there were 12 major attacks in Iraq in the whole of 2006).

On Monday 16 April there are over 50 reported deaths, among them 2 University Professors, shot dead in Mosul, a University student shot dead in Baghdad, and a 17-year-old son of a policeman. Around 30 dead bodies are found in Baghdad, Falluja, Mosul, Najaf and Hawija. Moqtada Al-Sadr withdraws his ministers from the Iraqi government, due to the government’s close ties to Washington.

On Tuesday 17 April around 80 die, including another University Professor shot dead in Baghdad, a barber, a 70-year-old woman, and 58 found bound, tortured and executed in Baghdad, Ramadi, Mosul and Diwaniya.

The dead civilians exceed 300 on Wednesday 18 April. In the worst ever attack in Baghdad, news agencies report 140 deaths in Sadriya, when a suicide bomber explodes his truck near a market. Iraqi TV Al-Sharqiya raises the Sadriya death toll to 195 the next day. Another bomb blows up 41 in Sadr City in Baghdad, another kills 11 in Karrada, Baghdad, and over 70 dead bodies are found in Ramadi, Mosul, Baghdad, Baquba and Kirkuk. Also, 2 farmers, injured in a US air strike of two villages a few days earlier, die.

Around 60 civilians die on Thursday 19 April, 40 of them in Baghdad. In the biggest attack, a suicide car bomber kills 11 in Jadriya.

Over 50 are killed again on Friday 20 April, again the majority of them in Baghdad. Friday’s dead include an 11-year-old girl blown up by a roadside bomb in Nassiriya, and another child killed by mortars in east Baghdad.

Around 50 die on Saturday 21 April. Gunmen kill a family of 4 (parents and two young daughters) in Kirkuk, US forces kill 5 people in Haditha during a raid, gunmen shoot dead the Mayor of Maussayab and his guards, and the Head of the Municipal Council in Falluja is assassinated.

On Sunday 22 April 80 civilians die, most of them in Baghdad and Mosul. In Baghdad, suicide car bombers kill 18 at a police station in Bayaa, another car bomb kills 7 people in Saidiya, again in Baghdad, while gunmen shoot dead 23 textile workers in Mosul. The killing of the 23 Yazidi workers is in revenge for the death by stoning of a 17-year-old Yazidi girl who had converted to Islam a few weeks earlier.

It was revealed this week that US troops are building a wall around the Sunni district of Adhamiya, which is surrounded by Shia communities. The 5-kilometre concrete wall is part of a strategy to ‘break the cycle of violence,’ according to a US spokesman. When the wall is complete, residents will only be able to cross the 3.6 metre high wall through checkpoints guarded by US and Iraqi troops. A similar project has started in two other areas of Baghdad. The building of the wall has provoked angry reactions from residents, who complain the wall will turn their district into a prison. ‘It is not the stated goal of the Baghdad security plan to divide everything up into…small gated communities,’ military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver insists. It is only for the public’s protection, he claims, as part of a successful security plan.

‘So far the operation is meeting expectations,’ President Bush said this week. ‘There are still horrific attacks in Iraq…but the direction of the fight is beginning to shift.’ Yet the real picture is very different.

There are grave human security concerns. 8m Iraqis need humanitarian assistance to ensure their day-to-day survival, a senior UN official told a gathering of international agencies. John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator told a two-day conference in Geneva ‘Iraq is not just a controversial political and security issue, but a profound and no doubt lasting humanitarian crisis.’ Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, appealed to near-by countries to continue to offer sanctuary.

An estimated 50,000 people flee the violence in Iraq every month, and there are now up to 4m Iraqi living away from home, including 1.9m living as internally displaced, many of them in acute poverty, with little access to healthcare and education. A report by the World Health Organisation released this month reveals that 70% of Iraqis lack regular access to clean water, while almost 70% of critically injured patients die in hospitals due to lack of staff, drugs and equipment.

As for the violence? ‘I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of all the car bombs,’ Petraeus admits. ‘Iraq is going to have to learn…to live with some degree of sensational attacks.’ Why? Why should Iraqis learn to live with this violence? Say President Bush had said this about Americans following the September 11 attacks. Would they have accepted to live with terrorism in their country? No, that would have been quite unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable for Iraqis.

Nobody should have to learn to live with the constant killing of their friends, relatives, neighbours. Nobody should have to learn to live with the hunt for their dead bodies, lying in piles inside huge morgues, some burnt, others tortured beyond recognition, missing heads, limbs. Many of them children.

We all in this world deserve better than to live such a life.