At least 80 Dead in Civil War Bloodbath
Government Forced to Depend on Local Gunmen
“”We will complete the mission and I will make my judgments as to the troop levels necessary to achieve victory, not based upon political polls or focus groups, but based upon the measured judgment of our commanders on the ground . . . Make no mistake about it, there is a group in the opposition party who are willing to retreat before the mission is done . . . They are willing to wave the white flag of surrender and if they succeed the United States will be worse off, and the world will be worse off . . . We’ve got a plan to succeed, a plan for victory, a plan that will enable a new ally in the war on terror to govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself . . .”
– George W. Bush, June 28, 2006
Al-Zaman/ AFP say that Baghdad was the site Sunday of the worst wave of of faith-based violence ever perpetrated by its sectarian militias in one day. Eyewitnesses in the Iraqi capital said that elements of the Mahdi Army, loyal to young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, killed at least 61, among them women and children, on the basis of their religious identity. [Official Iraqi and US sources said these numbers were exaggerated, and most American wire services gave the number of dead as 42.] They set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Jihad quarter of Baghdad for this purpose. Eyewitnesses said that gunmen wearing civilian clothing set up checkpoint barriers in the streets beginning early Sunday morning and began stopping passers-by. They investigated their identities, and killed anyone whom they found to be Sunni Arab. The eyewitnesses also said that some gunmen entered a number of homes and shot down the inhabitants. Some then set the houses on fire.
Courtesy Al-Sharq al-Awsat
Al-Hayat says that local Baghdad television (a largely Sunni outlet) carried pleas from a Sunni eyewitness to the attack for the government and the American forces to intervene to rescue them, but that the pleas went unanswered.
Officials of the Sadr Movement denied any involvement in the killings. Some Iraqi government officials, according to al-Hayat, said that they believed the massacre was committed by Sunni Arab guerrillas attempting to provoke civil disturbances.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that a Mahdi Army spokesman said that the al-Jihad district was home to many terrorists who had killed and ethnically cleansed Shiites.
The Mahdi Army closed off the largely Shiite Shu’lah district of West Baghdad near the site of the massacre in expectation of reprisal attacks. Al-Hayat said that two Sunni prayer leaders were killed in Shu’lah, who belonged to the Association of Muslim Scholars. A major Shiite preacher in Najaf on Friday accused the AMS of having ties to al-Qaedah.
The massacre ceased when Iraqi police and army, and US troops, intervened, surrounding the al-Jihad district and imposing a curfew. The curfew is expected to last at least 2 days.
Eyewitnesses said that bodies littered the streets for hours before finally being carted off to a local hospital, according to al-Hayat.
An AFP cameraman said that Iraqi troops were seen Sunday afternoon cordoning off the Jihad district and some neighboring districts.
Shaikh Abd al-Samad al-`Ubaydi, the prayer leader at the Fakhri Shanshal Mosque in the al-Jihad district, accused the Mahdi Army of committing this crime. “Everything is clear, now,” he said. He added, “When I left the mosque after the crime had been committed, I saw ten bodies of ten men, all of them killed with a bullet to the head, and all of them bearing signs of torture.” He said many of the early-morning killings were carried out in front of the Husayniyah of Fatimah al-Zahra, a Shiite mourning center.
The prayer leader at the Fatimah al-Zahra Husayniyah, Shaikh Hamud al-Sudani, for his part told the AFP that the attacks were carried out by relatives of victims killed in the quarter during recent months. He said, “During the past 5 months, Shiites have been the victims of killings in and expulsion from the al-Jihad district.” Guerrillas, presumably Sunni Arabs, had set off a bomb near the Fatimah al-Zahra center on Satuday evening, wounding 4, which Shaikh al-Sudani said was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Sunni mosque in the region, the Fakhri Shanshal, had also been the site of a bombing, on Friday, which killed one person and wounded 3.
Sunni Arab guerrillas replied to the checkpoint massacre by detonating a car bomb in front of the Ahl al-Bait Husayniyah (a Shiite center for mourning their martyrs from the House of the Prophet Muhammad) in the al-Kisah district of the Adhamiyah quarter of Baghdad, killing 19 and wounding 35. (Late reports in the Australian press spoke of 25 dead).
Guerrillas also set off a bomb in al-Baya’ district of West Baghdad, killing 5 persons and wounding 3.
The two bombings, targeting Shiites, are thought to have been revenge for the checkpoint murders in the al-Jihad district.
President Jalal Talabani uttered plattitudes about the dangers of sectarian violence devolving into “killings on the basis of identity”.
His aide, Muwaffaq al-Samarra’i, according to Al-Hayat, said, “Iraq has truly entered into a sectarian civil war; the matter is no longer merely one of sectarian hatred.”
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that the situation was under control.
The party of the Sunni fundamentalist politician Adnan Dulaimi condemned the “criminal sectarian militias” that were trying to “drag Iraq into a civil war.” The party said that the killings demonstrated the frightful impotence of the government, and warned that until the government intervened to stop such acts, the (Sunni) street could not be controlled by the party.
Al-Hayat said that neighborhood militias had closed off their city districts in several parts of the capital, especially those near al-Jihad district. It added, “Local gunmen spread themselves among police, army and militiamen, in an unprecedented move, amidst an affirmation that the security plan could not provide security to the inflamed capital.
Al-Hayat says that the Sunni Arab vice-premier, Salam al-Zawba’i, blamed “evildoers” among the police and army for the killings.
The same source reports that Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad, vehemently denied the allegations against the Mahdi Army. He said, “The Mahdi Army does not get involved in these sorts of incident. Outside parties are attempting to draw Iraq into a civil war through heaping accusations on the Sadr movement.”
Given the 30 dead or so in the afternoon bombings, and given that there were assassinations and deaths outside the capital (three in Karbala alone), even if one takes the estimate of 42 dead for the al-Jihad massacre, something like 80 Iraqis were killed on Sunday in sectarian warfare, and it could have been as high as 100. For my money, that’s a civil war.
The guerrilla group holding MP Taysir al-Mashhadani captive has demanded the release of 25 prisoners in exchange for her freedom.
Children are dying in the dozens in southern Iraq because of lack of basic medical care and medicines. Reuters reports,
‘”There’s a lack of everything. Children are dying because of bleeding because there are no blood bags available,” said Fernandez. “Antibiotics, Pentostam [an antimony compound used in the treatment of parasite infection], special milk for dehydrated children, and almost all medical material for emergency conditions aren’t available.” ‘
. Lack of security, corruption and the flight of middle class professionals have all contributed to the crisis.