Monday, January 20, 2014

Nouri's Iraq: Never-ending killing

As NINA reports, Nouri's assault on Anbar Province continues today with armed clashes and heavy shelling in Falluja, Nouri's forces killed 32 fighters in Ramadi, 2 Iraqi soldiers were killed and three more injured northwest of Falluja,  the military killed 4 fighters in Ramadi, in another Ramadi clash -- with the help of helicopters -- security forces killed 6 fighters, a police station in Ramadi was set fire to, and "The security source in Anbar declared closing all roads lead to Fallujah with nearly provinces in preparation for storming the city's outskirts."  Nafia Abdul Jabbar (AFP) observes, "Al-Qaeda-linked militants tightened their grip on Fallujah, a city on Baghdad's doorstep that has been outside of government control for weeks."

Elise Labot (CNN) offers a run through of events in Iraq which takes the form of five questions and answers:

1. I thought the Iraq war was over. Why is there still fighting?
Well, actually last year was the deadliest since 2008. The number of dead reached its worst levels since the height of the Iraq war, when sectarian fighting between the country's Shiite majority and its Sunni minority pushed it to the brink of civil war. Those tensions continue to be fueled by widespread discontent among the Sunnis, who say they are marginalized by the Shiite-led government and unfairly targeted by heavy-handed security tactics.

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) also goes with the Q&A format:

Did Iraq's civil war really end?

No. The very day the last US troops left Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, from the Shiite-Islamist Dawa Party, turned the screws on senior Sunni Arab politicians in parliament, signaling his intention to crush his political enemies. Mr. Maliki called for a vote of no confidence against Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's most senior elected Sunni Arab officials.
In the years since, Maliki's government has worked steadily to undo whatever progress toward political reconciliation had been made prior to the US exit. While Iraq is much less violent than it had been, thousands of civilians are still being killed in political violence each year. In 2012 civilian deaths jumped 17 percent. Last year such deaths more than doubled, to more than 8,000.

The violence was throughout Iraq today.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a southwest Baghdad car bombing (Alshorttah al-Rabaah neighborhood) killed 2 people and left seven injured, another southwest Baghdad bombing -- two bombs actually (in Saydiya area) -- left 1 person dead and ten more injured,  a north of Baghdad roadside bombing (Rashidiya) killed 3 people and left eight others, a Khanaqin bombing claimed 1 life and left one person injured, the corpse of 1 woman was discovered in the streets near Samawah (bullet wounds), 1 man's corpse was discovered in Tangro (bullet wounds), suspect Mohamed Fadel Abbas was shot dead by the Ministry of Interior forces, 2 corpses were discovered in Mosul (bullet wounds), a southeast Baghdad car bombing (Baghdadijiddeedah) left 4 people dead and fifteen injured, state-TV (al-Iraqiya) announced that "the Wali of Anbar named Ismail Latif" was killed by security forces in Ramadi, a southern Baghdad car bombing (Abu Dshir area) claimed 6 lives and left fifteen more injured, a southwest Baghdad car bombing (Bayaa area) left eight people injured, and a northwest Baghdad car bombing (Alhurriyah area) left 1 person dead and nine more injured.  All Iraq News adds 4 corpses were discovered in Ramadi (Iraqi soldiers) and Firas Mohammed Atea, "reporter of Falluja Satellite Channel [. . .] was killed while accompanying the security forces during their clashes."

On the issue of the killing of journalists, BRussells Tribunal carries ICSSI's "Journalists in Iraq: their freedoms obliterated by laws and policies while their lives are continually threatened!" which opens:

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association released its annual report for 2013, highlighting the serious deterioration in the working conditions and the safety of journalists in Iraq over the last year. The Association cited 286 cases of violent acts against journalists, including kidnappings and abductions, threats, bullying, beatings, and obstruction of their coverage of events. Twenty-one reporters and journalists were killed; most of these martyrs were specifically targeted because of their work. According to the Association, this is the most serious decline in the situation of journalists since 2007 when widespread civil conflict claimed the lives of thousands of citizens, including journalists.
The Association stated that this violence is largely caused by armed militias that operate freely in many areas, regularly threatening journalists with violence and death. The government allows these perpetrators to carry out their attacks with near total impunity. The province of Nineveh was identified by the Association as the most dangerous place in Iraq for journalists to work. Indeed, most journalists there have abandoned their work as a result of the threats and killings.

Even as the government has failed to address the dramatic increase in violence that journalists are experiencing, it has reinstituted laws and practices of the Saddam era that pose tremendous challenges to freedom of the press. Journalists have been detained, arrested and tried. The Association cited more than 700 cases in which members of the press have been brought before the court of “publication and media” regarding “crimes of libel and defamation” based on an Iraqi law of 1969. In addition, new legislation adopted in 2011, the so-called “Rights of Journalists Law”, severely threatens freedom of the press, and with it the transformation to democracy in Iraq. The Association worked for the repeal of this law, and later proposed amendments to the sections of the law that threaten press freedom to the Parliament’s Committee of Culture and Media in September 2013. It also filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court to force the government to revise the law, but until now, the Parliament has not placed discussion of these crucial issues on its agenda.

Jomana Karadsheh and Hamdi Alkhshali (CNN) remind, "On Saturday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talked with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki about U.S. support for Iraq's fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a group trying to overthrow the Iraqi government. Biden's office said the two leaders agreed on the importance of the Iraqi government's continued outreach to local and tribal leaders in Anbar province."  It doesn't matter.  Nouri doesn't give a damn what Joe Biden says.  If US President Barack Obama got on the phone with Nouri and said, "No weapons, no aid, until you start implementing power-sharing and listen to the Sunnis demands"?  That might frighten Nouri enough to start a real dialogue.  Short of that, the assault's continuing.

And when will the White House -- and the international community -- wake the hell up?

When this started as December wound down, a State Dept friend assured me Nouri would wrap up the "action" in 7 days "10 tops."

That hasn't happened.

Not only is that threatening to the residents of Anbar, has the White House forgotten that parliamentary elections are supposed to take place April 30th?

In December, you might be able to pretend that there was a time for an assault.  It's now January 20th, closer to the end of the month than the start and April 30th looms.

When is the White House going to get serious?

Last Thursday, Abdullah Salem (Niqash) reported on the targeting of protesters in Mosul:

All eyes have been on Anbar. But a series of assassinations of Sunni Muslim tribal heads and clerics who have been leading demonstrations in Ninawa leads to worrying conclusions. Extremists from both Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups have the common goal of getting rid of this society’s leaders and causing havoc here too.

Earlier this week, assailants broke into the home of the Sunni Muslim cleric Radwan al-Hadidi. Al-Hadidi was one of the leaders of the Sunni Muslim anti-government protests in the area and several days earlier he had made a speech criticising extremist Sunni elements. He told media that it was easier to talk with a wall than it was to talk to Al Qaeda. Yet at the same time al-Hadidi was also firmly opposed to the policies of the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad and had demanded that it be dissolved and that the Iraqi Constitution be re-written.

The men who broke into al-Hadidi’s house murdered him.

This was not an isolated case. Several of the leaders of the demonstrations in this area have been assassinated over the past year. The murders started after demonstrators started to carry guns - and they started to carry guns after the Iraqi army broke up a demonstration in Hawija, near the city of Kirkuk, in late April. In doing so, they killed around 40 demonstrators and injured hundreds of others.
“Rumours started circulating that there were now Shiite Muslim militias killing the protest leaders,” says Abdul-Salam Raouf, a local journalist. “Allegedly they were supported by Iran and they included the likes of the League of Righteous led by Qais Khazali and Hezbollah in Iraq led by Wathiq al-Battat.”

One of the first protest leaders to be murdered was Haitham al-Abadi who was attacked on August 19, 2013. The attack on al-Abad also saw another tribal leader, Ahmad al-Ramawi injured.

Later that month gunmen targeted Barzan al-Badrani, a prominent tribal leader who took part in the protests. He was murdered using a pistol with a silencer in central Mosul.

Another protest leader, Tharwi al-Kourz al-Shammari, was also killed in Mosul, next to his house by unidentified gunmen. Yet another protest leader Thaer Hazem Abed was killed by gunmen in September. 
Then on October 11, cleric Ali al-Shamma was murdered after he finished his Friday sermon in Mosul.
The governor of the province of Ninawa, Sunni Muslim politician, Atheel al-Nujaifi, has his own theories on why the men were assassinated. Al-Nujaifi supports the demonstrations and is also opposed to the current government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. And he believes the protest leaders could have been targeted by one of two groups – either Sunni Muslim extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda, like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, or one of the extremist Shiite Muslim militias like the League of the Righteous.  Neither of these groups likes the Sunni Muslim protestors and they have their own reasons for wanting them dead.

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