AP reports that two suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque congregation in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar on Friday. The first was stopped and his belt bomb only killed him. But the second managed to detonate his belt in a crowd, killing four persons and wounding over 20. The scene of the attack was the Jawad al-Sadiq Mosque in the cinema district downtown. There are about 800,000 Turkmen in northern Iraq, split about evenly between Sunnis and Shiites. They speak a language similar to that of Turkey and often have close family relations across the border.
Tal Afar is a major Iraqi Turkmen urban center, with a population of some 170,000 inside city lines.
Shiite Turkmen make up about 20% of Tal Afar’s population as far as I can tell, with Sunni Turkmen the majority and a minority of Sunni Arabs, as well. [A US observer at Tal Afar wrote to say that the 2005 US/ Iraqi assault on the city displaced the Sunni Turkmen from it to surrounding villages and that Tal Afar is now majority Shiit. I.e. the same outcome on a smaller scale as in Baghdad! No wonder the Sunni Turkmen are so angry. – 2/22/08] The Turkmen Shiites have become much more powerful, because of their alliance with the Americans, provoking resentments from the Sunni Turkman, many of whom had been strong Baathists. Tal Afar is not far from the Syrian border and so an easy place to infiltrate by foreign fighters. The US military has built a wall around the city and has tried to control militants’ access, and September 1-18 of 2005 assaulted Sunni militants there frontally, with Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite allies. Last year this time, in late March 2007, a massive bomb in a Shiite market of Tal Afar killed 152 and wounded twice that many, provoking Shiite police in the city to kill some 70 Sunnis in revenge.
AP also reports on a US airstrike on “al-Qaeda” which local Iraqi authorities maintain actually killed some women and members of a Sunni Awakening Council that is pro-US.
Reuters reports that “BALAD RUZ – Gunmen in police uniforms manning a fake checkpoint kidnapped four people from one family on Friday, including two women, near the town of Balad Ruz, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said.”
Radio Sawa reports in Arabic that a firefight broke out on Thursday evening in the southern port city of Basra between the Mahdi Army and British troops. The fighting occurred near the al-Qiblah District in the southwestern part of the city. In response, Iraqi government security forces fanned through the city.
A Multinational Forces spokesman said that British forces undertook a air operation Thursday evening along the strategic line that connects Basra airport with Kuwait near al-Qiblah District. The fighting did not result in any British casualties, but badly damaged a tank. I was unable to find any reports of all this in Western wire services. I did find some pundit claiming that things were “much improved” in Basra. A British parliamentary commission found the opposite last fall.
Patrick Cockburn explains that among the main outcomes of the US troop escalation (“surge”) was the Shiite victory in the 2007 battle for Baghdad, which has left hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs homeless and often in exile in Syria. He is also scathing on how the Awakening Councils are full of ex-al-Qaeda fighters who still despise the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which returns the sentiment in spades. He points out that the era of good feeling in Washington DC and New York about Iraq is part of a cycle of unfounded optimism that has much more to do with US politics than the squalid situation on the ground in Iraq.
Contrary to the glowing depictions of Iraq in the US press, Baghdad is engulfed in a lake of sewage so big it can be seen on Google Earth, many neighborhoods lack water, and electricity supply is insufficient and spotty. Although the Iraqi government crows about building clinics, the fact is that most nurses and physicians have fled, and medicines are in short supply. Last I knew, water purification was being impeded by US blockades on chlorine trucks coming in from Jordan. Some 70% of Iraqis do not have access to clean water, and there have been 100 recent cases of cholera in the capital, especially in the slum of Sadr City.
In nearby Baquba to the northeast, most children cannot go to school because of the poor security and some of those who can faint from hunger. The lack of services, poor security and perceived US favoritism to Shiite have stirred anger and resentment in Baqubah against the US.