Iraq: more Shi’ite pilgrims massacred; Pentagon foresees “civil war”

Six bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 17 people and wounded more than 50 Sept. 8, hours before a much-touted ceremony in which the US-led international coalition officially handed over control of the country’s armed forces command to Iraqi authorities. The bombs, including three suicide car attacks, all targeted police patrols and occurred within about three hours of each other. Meanwhile, the nephew of Iraq’s parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, was kidnapped from his home in the Hurriyah neighborhood of north Baghdad. (IOL, Sept. 7)

The following day, four Shi’ite pilgrims were killed in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, when mortar rounds struck crowds en route to a religious festival in Karbala. Iraqi soldiers have cordoned off the city of Karbala, while some 7,000 police have been mobilized to guard the Shi’ite shrines there.

Meanwhile, police in Tikrit said they found the bodies of three members of the oil protection force who were kidnapped a day ago from west of the city. In a similar incident, police in Diwaniya found the body of a translator who worked for the US forces. He was kidnapped three days ago. Police also found the bodies of six men who had been tortured and then shot and killed in an apparent sectarian killing in Baghdad. (Al-Jazeera, Sept. 8)

Days earlier, 14 Pakistani and Indian Shi’ite pilgrims were abducted and killed in Iraq’s western desert. The 11 Pakistanis and three Indians had been travelling to holy Shi’ite sites in Iraq when they were attacked in Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni insurgency. Officials said gunmen stopped the convoy and separated the men from the women in the party, which included 14 Indians and 26 Pakistanis. Police found the bodies of the men in neighboring Kerbala province the following day. An official at the hospital in Kerbala, where the bodies were taken, said the men had their hands bound and had been shot in the head. Some had been tortured. One was partially decapitated. (Scotland Sunday Herald, Sept. 3)

The pilgrims were traveling to Kerbala for Shaabaniya, which celebrates the birth of a 9th-century imam. Thousands of the faithful streamed through the streets of Kerbala for the holy day. Worshippers also heard Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), repeat demands for legislation to let the mainly Shi’ite regions of the oil-rich south merge into an autonomous federal region. “Yes, Yes to Federalism!” was a popular chant.

SCIRI-supported proposals for legislation on the mechanics of federalism provoked a fracas in Iraq’s parliament Sept. 7 before an agreement among the factions to delay a constitutional deadline for passing a law on the question.

Sectarian violence is now killing some 100 people a day, the UN estimates. Monthly figures from the Baghdad morgue show a drop of 17% to 1,536 bodies brought in. This is less than the decline of over 40% in civilian deaths sought by the US for August, and a full picture of violence against civilians will not be clear until the Health Ministry publishes data on other deaths, said Gianni Magazzini, the UN human rights representative in Iraq. Total civilian deaths from violence were estimated at over 3,000 in July by various officials. US troops now number 145,000, up 14 percent since July in an effort to boost security.
(Reuters, Sept. 8)

The latest quarterly Pentagon report to Congress on progress in Iraq finds: “Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months.” The report sees the “most complex” security challenges since the invasion in 2003. It finds that the “core conflict” has changed into one pitting Sunni against Shi’ites, with the Sunni Arab insurgency against the US overshadowed.

“Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,” the report said, cautioning that the Sunni-led insurgency “remains potent and viable” even as it is overshadowed by the sectarian violence. (MSNBC, Sept. 2)

In a new video received by al-Jazeera, the leader of “al-Qaeda in Iraq” calls on Muslims to support the Iraqi uprising. The speaker on the tape was identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, AKA Abu Ayyub al-Masri. He became the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq after the killing of his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a US air strike in June.

“Place your hands in our hands … our enemy has unified his ranks, now is the time to unite,” said the speaker on the tape. The speaker urged followers to “kill at least one American within a period not exceeding 15 days”.

Al-Muhajir was announced as al-Qaeda in Iraq’s new leader on June 12 and received Osama bin Laden’s endorsement in an audiotape. In the first major attack claimed by the group under al-Muhajir, it said it carried out the kidnapping and slaying of two US soldiers whose mutilated bodies were found in southern Baghdad on June 20.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is said to account for about 5% of Iraq’s Sunni Arab uprising but its bombers have been responsible for some of the worst violence, often killing over 100 people in a single attack.(al-Jazeera, Sept. 7)

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