As the world's press rush to and fro, Iraq only grows more desperate. Jane Arraf (Gulf News) examines the realities on the ground today:
Behind the numbing regularity of Iraq's car bombs is the much quieter sound of a country slowly imploding. The targets these days are not usually the fortress-like ministries or security installations -- they are regular Iraqis. Last Friday, bombs exploded in a Sunni mosque near Samarra, killing at least 15 people. The attack capped a week of violence that also saw at least 30 people killed on September 17 in coordinated bombings that targeted Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad, still mourning the victims of previous attacks. The bombers intended to cause the maximum number of casualties -- detonating their explosives at the end of the day, when Iraqis crowd into markets and cafes.More than 4,000 civilians have been killed so far this year, the highest death toll since Iraq climbed out of civil war five years ago. Any wreckage is now quickly hauled away, as the government in Baghdad has little capacity for forensic investigations. In many neighbourhoods, the black funeral banners draped over brick walls and concrete blast barriers are the only lasting signs of repeated explosions. Apart from civilians, hundreds of soldiers and police, as well as officials from the Interior and Justice Ministries, have been killed. Many of these attacks are the handiwork of Al Qaida, which has made clear that it intends to foster a civil war in Iraq. The jihadist group’s targeting of markets, cafes and mosques seems aimed at showing Iraqis that government security forces cannot protect them -- potentially pushing them into the arms of the Shiite militias and Sunni extremists who were at the forefront of sectarian violence during the worst days of Iraq’s civil war.
Today's violence included a bit of everything. NINA notes a helicopter crashed "near a military camp northeast of Baquba." AFP reports the helicopter was fired upon (and pilot had gun wounds) and the Iraqi military is disputing whether or not the helicopter was "shot down." Press TV adds, "Eight people have been killed in attacks on two Iraqi police stations and a local official's house in the western province of al-Anbar. Seven officers and the brother of a local official were killed on Tuesday in two bombings and a shooting incident in the towns of Rawa and Aana." Xinhua explains, "In one of the attacks, a suicide bomber blew up his explosive- laden car at the entrance of the house of Waqass Adnan, mayor of the city of Aana, some 250 km west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." AFP reports the Aana assault was an attempt "to take over a small Sunni town."
In other violence, NINA notes a car carrying four Sunni Endowment staff was attacked to the northeast of Baghdad leaving all four injured, a Baghdad car bombing left five people injured, a Tikrit bombing left four people (including one police officer) injured, an attack on an Iraqi soldier's Baquba home left one child and a civilian adult injured, 1 farmer was shot dead in Baquba, an attack on a Jurf al-Sakar military headquarters left 1 Iraqi soldier dead, and a Jebela sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left another person injured.
Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 909 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month. At the Palais de Nations in Geneva today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Melissa Fleming addressed the violence in Iraq:
In Iraq, UNHCR is concerned as recent waves of sectarian violence threatens to spark a new internal displacement of Iraqis fleeing the recent horrific bombings and other attacks.
Since the beginning of the year, bombings and rising sectarian tensions have displaced some 5,000 Iraqis, with people mostly fleeing from Baghdad into Anbar and Salah Al Din governorates, as well as causing displacement within Diyala and Ninewa governorates.
Reports from the last two weeks suggest that up to 160 families from Basra and Thi Qar were displaced into Salah al Din and Anbar and 57 families from Baghdad arrived in Babylon. A smaller number of families have also fled from various governorates into Kerbala, Najaf and Wassit. Those displaced so far include Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Shia Shabak, Turkmen as well as Shia Arabs who are in minority situation.
UNHCR and its partners have conducted needs assessments of the newly displaced people and is advocating with the government of Iraq for their registration. In coordination with the government, UNHCR and our partners ensure that food, core relief items, education and adequate accommodation are provided and that relevant identity and residency cards are also supplied.
This recent displacement adds to the over 1.13 million internally displaced people inside Iraq that fled their homes amidst the 2006-2008 sectarian violence mostly residing in Baghdad, Diyala and Ninewa governorates.
Some 467,000 internally displaced people, returnees and squatters remain in more than 382 settlements on public land or in public buildings, enduring harsh living conditions and with limited access to electricity, adequate sanitation, schooling or sufficient job opportunities despite efforts from the governorates and others. Many may be at risk of eviction. UNHCR with the IDP working group has been working with the government, particularly with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, on a comprehensive plan to end displacement. This incorporates the development of policies on integration as well as livelihood, employment opportunities and shelter programmes.
We'll come back to the statement in a moment. Yesterday evening, Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative, issued the following statement on the violence:
"I condemn the attacks that took place in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday, killing more than one hundred mourners and injuring close to two hundred in different districts of Baghdad, and killing two policemen in the north of the country. My thoughts go out to the many victims, and I express my condolences in particular to the families touched by this tragedy at a time when they were already grieving over the loss of their loved ones.
I continue to be extremely concerned by the escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq and the threat it poses to the stability of the country.
I welcome the recent initiatives by Iraqi political leaders to address their differences and promote reconciliation as a means of achieving lasting peace. I encourage them to spare no effort in searching for ways to reduce tensions and ensure that all Iraqi citizens are protected from violence."
Yesterday we called out the US Embassy in Baghdad for condemning the bombing attack on a Shi'ite funeral in Baghdad but being silent about the Sunday Baghdad bombing of a Sunni funeral and the Monday Baghdad bombing of a Sunni funeral.
They issued this statement:
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq denounces yesterday’s attack on mourners at a funeral in Baghdad. This brutal attack, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians, and Saturday’s similar attack at a funeral, remind us of the formidable security challenges that Iraq faces. We continue to work with the Government of Iraq to combat the terrorism threat and bring justice to those responsible for such despicable crimes. The U.S. Embassy extends its most sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes for a rapid recovery to those injured.
They say they issued it yesterday.
I called a State Dept friend to say I was sorry for missing that statement yesterday and how I would do a correction in today's snapshot. My friend couldn't stop laughing. That was issued today. He said, "Google it and get the time stamp." I did. He was right.
15 hours ago. It's eight p.m. EST as I'm dictating this snapshot. That means? The US embassy in Iraq issued that that at 6:00 am EST September 24th and thought they could predate it to September 23rd. They fooled me. I'd be offering an apology right now if a friend at the State Dept hadn't put me wise to what actually went down. And that includes that I am "pissing people" at the State Dept off. Oh, you know I'm going to lose sleep over that.
Back to UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming addressed the violence in Iraq:
Meanwhile, following the attack on Camp New Iraq on 1 September in which more than 50 residents died UNHCR remains gravely concerned for the safety of seven former residents of the site who remain unaccounted for. According to reports reaching UNHCR, the missing persons are reportedly being held somewhere in Iraq and may be at risk of being returned involuntarily to Iran, which would be a serious breach of international law. These seven are all known by UNHCR to be asylum-seekers, and UNHCR wants to have the opportunity to interview them.
In light of the numerous and persistent reports over the past week that these individuals may be at risk of forced return to Iran, UNHCR calls upon the Government of Iraq to locate them, to ensure their physical security and to safeguard them against return to Iran against their will. UNHCR furthermore urges the government to ensure the protection of the residents of Hurriya temporary transit location and calls on the international community to find solutions outside Iraq as a matter of urgency.
Iraq's prime minister and chief thug Nouri al-Maliki has denied having the seven hostages. Nouri's word doesn't mean anything on the world stage. Right about now, we usually do the background on the Camp Ashraf community but instead we'll let the United Nations News Centre cover it:
The United Nations human rights office today called on the Government of Iraq to do all it can to ascertain the whereabouts of seven former residents of Camp Ashraf, who have been missing since the facility, which housed Iranian exiles, was attacked on 1 September, leaving at least 52 residents dead.
“We are gravely concerned about allegations that seven former residents of Camp Ashraf, six of whom are reported to be women, were kidnapped during the events of 1 September,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a briefing in Geneva.
“If they have indeed been kidnapped, all efforts should be made to secure their release unharmed,” Mr. Colville added, noting unconfirmed reports that suggest that they are being held at an unidentified location in Iraq and are at risk of being forcibly returned to Iran.
Camp Ashraf was comprised of Iranian exiles, many of them members of a group known as the People’s Mojahedeen of Iran.
More than 3,000 residents have been relocated to Camp Hurriya, previously known as Camp Liberty, while the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) carries out a process to determine their refugee status, and resettle them outside of the country, in line with an agreement signed in December 2011 between the UN and the Iraqi Government.
Camp Ashraf has been attacked several times, making relocation a priority for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Following the latest attack, the remaining residents were transferred to Camp Hurriya, but the circumstances of the attack remain obscure.
“As three weeks have now passed, we reiterate our call on the Government to do its utmost to shed light on exactly what happened and to identify the perpetrators of these killings,” Mr. Colville said, while welcoming the transfer of the remaining residents to Hurriya.
He added that UNHCR and others shared the concern over the missing former residents and called on the Government to ensure their safety and prevent their involuntary return to Iran.
Twelve days ago, US Senator Robert Mendez's office released the following:
September 12, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released this statement condemning the attacks on Camp Ashraf residents, and called on the Iraqi government to protect the community and secure the release of seven hostages taken after the massacre at Camp Ashraf.
“I condemn the brutal violence targeting Camp Ashraf residents in the most forceful of terms and personally offer my deepest sympathies to the families of this horrific act of terror. The surviving residents have been moved to Camp Liberty, but serious threats endure for the community and they remain targets of future attacks even as they are relocated. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq must proceed with their independent investigation and thoroughly ensure the safety and wellbeing of those residents now in Camp Liberty.
“I hold the Iraqi government directly responsible to protect the community, to investigate this matter thoroughly, and to prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous act. I am deeply concerned for the seven hostages who were taken during this attack. The Iraqi government should act swiftly to determine their whereabouts and ensure their safety. There is added urgency for the global community, as well as for the United States, to help resettle this community outside of Iraq, and end this cycle of ongoing terror attacks.”
Menendez is the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Again, Nouri stated last week he is not holding any hostages. If true, did he deport them or have them killed? Deportation isn't a joke. There are rumors swirling in social media that Nouri's going to deport the remaining Ashraf community members. James Morrison (Washington Times via Iran Focus) reports:
From Capitol Hill to Brussels, supporters of the Iranian opposition are urging Secretary of State John F. Kerry to take action against Iraq for the massacre of 52 Iranian exiles by Iraqi gunmen.
Thirty-four House members urged Mr. Kerry to cut funds for Iraq until Baghdad takes “clear and verifiable efforts” to protect more than 3,000 dissidents in a refugee camp near the international airport.
They called on Mr. Kerry to demand the release of seven hostages taken during a Sept. 1 raid on Camp Ashraf, a smaller camp north of the capital.
The House members and other lawmakers noted that most of the victims were shot in the head and many had their hands tied behind their backs.
Doesn't really sound like John Kerry has the time to threaten war on Syria. But when you crave destruction, when you lust for blood, you make the time.
Today Hamza Mustafa (Asharq Al-Awsat) writes, "One day after Moqtada Al-Sadr announced the end of his self-imposed exile from Iraqi politics, arguments erupted between the Sadr Movement and Qais Al Khazali’s Ahl Al-Haq group which broke away from Sadr’s Mahdi Army in 2007."
It's not home
And it's not Tara
In fact do I know you
Have I been here before
This is a dream, right
Did I come here on my own
Oh I see
Welcome to the room Sara
Welcome to the choir, sir
-- "Welcome to the Room . . . Sara," written by Stevie Nicks, first appears on Fleetwood Mac's Tango in the Night
Dropping back to the September 12th snapshot:
Turning to Iraqi politics, Kitabat reports cleric and movement Moqtada al-Sadr has finished trips to Lebanon and Jordan and paid his respects to his late father at the Najaf shrine and is now ready to re-enter political life. Moqtada has surprised many by announcing he was stepping away from politics. Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi publicly called for Moqtada to return to politics. Allawi's sentiments were echoed by Iraqis of all sects, not just Shi'ite members of Moqtada's movement. In a statement issued today, Moqtada acknowledged those calls and announces he will heed them.
Welcome to the room, Hamza. Your twelve days late, but welcome. Sunday, Moqtada began his weekly face-to-face addresses on the country's problems. Still on Iraqi politics, Saturday the KRG held provincial elections. Exit polling places the Kurdistan Democratic Party (led by KRG President Massoud Barzani) in the lead. The surprise from the polling is that the other dominant political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is no longer dominant. Second place, according to the exit polling, has gone to Gorran (Change). World Bulletin notes today, "KDP has stated that they would like to form the new government with their strategic ally, PUK. However, there are rumors of a possible split-up within PUK who lost most of its power in the absence of Jalal Talabani. If Barham Salih, deputy secretary general of PUK, happens to leave and form a new party, KDP may have to turn to Goran to form a coalition." Some of what's being said on Twitter about the elections: