Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iraq 'in focus' after the tenth anniversary of Iraq invasion

According to the Iraq Body Count, an Iraqi casualty database, bloodshed and death rates in Iraq have increased since the departure of US troops in December 2011, reports The Telegraph. In 2012, 4,570 civilians were killed compared to 4,147 in 2011. The increase is attributed to the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). According to estimates by Iraqi officials, AQI’s membership has increased from 700 in 2011 to 2,500 today. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ramped up its collaboration with Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service (CTS) in order to better fight al Qaeda affiliates along the shared Iraqi-Syrian border, according to The Wall Street Journal. The move comes as Syrian violence is increasingly spilling into Iraq. Most recently, an estimated fifty Assad soldiers were ambushed and 
killed in Iraqi territory after seeking safety from rebel fighters. Iraqi officials say that the attack bore the hallmarks of AQI. Shortly after, on 12 March, the Associated Press (AP) reports AQI claimed responsibility for the ambush along the shared border. 

In Ramadi, protests continue as thousands of Sunni Iraqis line the highway standing in “long neat lines praying on coloured prayer mats” in an effort to block the main highway linking Iraq to Jordan and Syria, reports The Guardian. Tent cities have sprung up in major Sunni-dominated cities such as Ramadi, Mosul and Fallujah. The tents provide support and shelter for protesters. Sustained protests have facilitated reconciliation among Sunni insurgent groups and tribal leaders who have “put aside their differences to mount a common front against Baghdad”. One Sunni insurgent, Abu Saleh, states that a truce with the tribal sheikhs, other factions and even moderate elements in al Qaeda, “has united 
Sunnis like never before”. Saleh added, “The politicians have joined us and we have the legitimacy of the street”. On 15 March, hundreds of Sunni protesters clashed with Iraqi police attempting to prevent demonstrators from reaching Abu Hanifa, the most venerated Sunni-mosque in Baghdad, and the location of weekly protests against the Shi’ite led government, according to The Daily Star. Witnesses at the scene reported that Iraqi riot police used batons and water cannons to stop worshippers from assembling at the Sunni mosque. Also, in western Anbar province, masked men arrived at the scene of demonstrations in Fallujah, raising the Syrian Rebel flag and a black banner that mimicked the AQI banner. Trend reports that tens of thousands of Shi’ite protesters in southern Iraqi took to the streets on 16 March to protest the sectarian violence in the country. Led by Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the protest also marked the 
tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

A series of coordinated attacks rocked Baghdad on 14 March killing an estimated 24 people and wounding dozens of others, according to Voice of America (VOA). The attacks concentrated in the Allawi district, which hosts several government ministry offices. AQI later claimed responsibility for the attacks, reports Reuters. On 15 March, militants gunned down eight Iraqi soldiers reporting for work in a town north of Baghdad, according to Daily Star. On the same day, gunmen in the city of Baquba forced their way into the house of a local Sahwa1 anti-al Qaeda leader, killing him and his three sons. On 18 March, a car bomb killed ten people on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city of Basra while earlier that morning, another bomb detonated in the city centre, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP). On the same day, a suicide bomber driving an explosive-rigged truck wounded three police officers near Baiji in northern Iraq. 
Finally,on 18 March, Iraqi officials report that two bombs, including a sticky bomb, attached to the undercarriage of a bus, killed four people in a western Baghdad suburb, according to AP.

On 13 March, Kurdish militants released eight Turkish captives who had been held since 2011 and 2012, reports The New York Times (NYT). The former captives met their families at a Turkish-Iraqi border crossing. The release is the latest sign that peace talks between Turkey and Kurdish rebels are gaining momentum. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK2) leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey 
since 1999, is in discussions with Turkey. The release of the captives “[is] the first tangible result of the talks, and paves the way for more success”, said Umit Firat, a prominent Kurdish intellectual.

Iran and Iraq signed an agreement that expands cooperation between the naval forces, reports Trend. The agreement will include mutual exchanges and joint drills in the Persian Gulf. Also, Iraq’s Oil Ministry announced that seven international oil companies qualify to bid for developing the 4.4 billion-barrel Nasiriyah field and constructing 300,000 barrels per day (BPD) refinery nearby, according to AP. The field is located in Thi Qar province, approximately two hundred miles south of Baghdad.

The Kurdish Genocide International Conference began in Erbil, Kurdistan on 14 March, according to Gulf News. The three day conference seeks to raise international awareness about the massacres carried out by Saddam Hussein’s forces against the ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. On 16 March, Kurds commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, in which an estimated 5,000 died in a chemical attack on the northern city, reports VOA. The massacre was part of a broader genocide campaign called the “Anfal”; 
some 182,000 Kurds were killed at the hands of the Iraqi government.

Sources: NATO, CFC, VOA, AP, AFP, NYT, The Telegraph. 

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