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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 Charge of the Knights

by Lily Hamourtziadou

30 Mar 2008

Al Maliki’s ‘bold decision to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner,’ George W Bush declared last week. Nearly 30,000 Iraqi troops have been involved in the assault code named ‘The Charge of the Knights’, a series of attacks against militants in Basra, Baghdad and other cities in southern Iraq. An assault that lasted for most of last week, greatly contributing to the civilian death toll of nearly 400. Among last week’s victims were 12 children, while 38 were killed by US and British forces, the allies of the Iraqi government, which, naturally, assisted in the killings.

‘All explanations are possible for the current fighting in Basra,’ writes Fatih Abdulsalam (‘Iraq’s never-ending war’ Azzaman, March 29), ‘but the reality of the situation …is the fact that war …has been raging without interruption in Iraq for the past five years.’ ‘Iraq,’ he observes, ‘has turned into a country of armies and militias, all with their own separate agendas and plans. All are bent on fighting each other over influence and privileges, whether material or political, and have nothing to do with the people and the country they are supposed to serve.’ And all parties involved can provide a whole set of justifications for their presence, their fight and their use of force against any given target.

Two leading television stations broadcasting to Iraqi audiences have offered their own coverage of the clashes between government/US/British forces and those of the Mahdi Army.

Privately-owned Al-Sharqiya TV reported the government-led assault extensively, covered news of attacks against the Dawa Party (headed by Prime Minister Al-Maliki) in Baghdad and Kut, and of demonstrations against Iraq’s ‘new dictator.’

The Iraqi government’s TV station Al-Iraqiya, in contrast, showed not one news bulletin. According to BBC sources, ‘the channel aired a repeat of an interview with the interior minister, discussing various political and security issues. This was followed by patriotic songs, urging unity, and patriotic poetry. The only "urgent" caption screened was on a Sunni-mounted attack against civilians in Baghdad. The caption read: "Terrorist takfiris from Al-Qa'idah terrorist organization attack residents in Al-Shurtah area in Baghdad, forcing them out of their houses".

Later, the channel carried an archived programme on the 1991 Shi'i uprising against the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Husayn.’

As for Falah Shanshal, Sadrist bloc MP, he described this assault as ‘mass punishment’ (National Iraqi News Agency, March 28). The government measures, he said, were as good as imposing martial law, ‘leaving the people in Iraq’s provinces in tragic situations.’ The former Iraqi army, he observed, was disbanded for being ‘a tool to oppress Iraqi people.’ But, he wondered, ‘will this army be disbanded for following in the footsteps of its predecessor?’

All explanations are possible, as are all justifications, reasons, myths and narratives. But above and beyond all those narratives and justifications, as March 2008 comes to an end, at least another 1,378 Iraqi civilians (52 of them children) are added to the list of the fallen ‘for freedom and democracy,’ both of which are yet to be seen in this war-torn country.