‘Friendly’ fire

re11.jpgWho is behind the current escalation of violence mere weeks before the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Iraq cities? Is it friend or foe, asks Nermeen Al-Mufti
One of the many victims in Iraq’s latest series of violence, in this case a double suicide bombing in Kadhimiya in Baghdad which killed 55 people, including several Iranians

The growing violence in Iraq is raising fears that the country may slip back into chaos before US troops leave at the end of 2011. In Kirkuk, 280 kilometres north of Baghdad, members of two Christian families were found dead on Monday, killed by what police say are guns equipped with silencers.

A week ago, a car bomb went off in Kirkuk, leaving dozens dead or wounded. An Arab police officer, Major Saleh Al-Jaburi, was murdered in his house last Thursday by gunmen said to be speaking Kurdish. Heads of Arab clans have denounced the assassination, and the spokesman for the Arab Republican Rally in the Kirkuk Judiciary Council said that his group was boycotting the council meetings for one day in protest against the killing of ethnic Arabs in Kirkuk.

Kirkuk Archbishop Louis Sakou said the murder of two Christian families was committed simultaneously in different parts of Kirkuk, and therefore has to be seen as part of one “premeditated” crime. “The aim is to spread chaos and fear among the inhabitants of Kirkuk,” he pointed out. Sakou called on the Christians of Kirkuk not to bow down to intimidation.

The Kirkuk inhabitants wait with baited breath for the special report Stefan De Mistura, the envoy of the UN secretary-general, is expected to submit soon about Kirkuk. Press reports say that the report contains four proposals about the city’s future, one of which calls for the enforcement of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which both Arabs and Turkomen reject.

In Mosul, as the violence continues, a new governor is taking up his post. He is Atheel Al-Nujaifi, chief of the Hadbaa List that won the recent elections, and he has pledged to restore normalcy to Nineveh. But he is being challenged by Kurdish officials in some of the Nineveh districts. The Kurds, who reject Al-Nujaifi’s appointment as governor, are threatening to cede their districts from Nineveh and join the governorate of Irbil instead. Politicians in both Mosul and Baghdad are unlikely to approve of such a move.

Because of the violence in Mosul and Diyala, US forces have reversed their decision to pull out of the two governorates at present.

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Al-Maliki issued a statement denouncing the raid by US forces on a home in Al-Kut near Waset, 120km southeast of Baghdad. The Americans killed two and arrested six during the raid. Al-Maliki is said to have ordered the US forces to hand over those responsible for the raid to Iraqi authorities and release the detainees. He accused the US forces of violating the security agreement between the two countries, for all raids on private homes need to be undertaken with the prior approval of the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Iraqi troops arrested two local military commanders in Waset on Sunday, accusing them of allowing US troops to carry out the raid. According to Defence spokesman Mohamed Al-Askari, the two officers violated their orders when they allowed US forces to carry out the raid. The security agreement with Washington calls for US troops to obtain the approval of the Iraqi government before raiding any homes. The house that was raided by the Americans belong to Abdel-Moneim Al-Bedeiri, chief of Al-Bedeiri clan, and is situated in the Tammuz part of Al-Kut.

Four suicide bombings took place in Baghdad and Diyala last week, bringing back painful memories of 2006 and 2007, when such attacks were a daily occurrence. On Thursday, a suicide bombing, possibly by a woman, took place in a crowd receiving food from police in Al-Karadah section of Baghdad. Thirty people were killed, including 10 policemen. Within the hour, another man detonated a bomb he was carrying inside a restaurant on a road frequented by pilgrims in Baqouba, Diyala, killing 50 people. Many of the victims were Iranian nationals visiting the holy sites.

Last Friday, the mausoleum of Imam Al-Kazim, in Al-Kazimiya district in western Baghdad, was hit by two suicide bombings, leading to the death of 60 worshippers, many of whom were Iranian. Consequently, Iran decided to close its borders with Iraq to prevent further occurrences.

In April, over 300 people were killed and hundreds wounded, making it the bloodiest month this year, yet less bloody than 2006 and 2007, when the death toll in any given month could climb to 3,000.

Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has ordered an immediate investigation in the Al-Kazimiya bombings and ordered the arrest of two security officials in charge of supervising security in the area.

An editorial in the state-run newspaper Al-Sabah offered two explanations for the bombings. “We have two explanations for what’s going on. One is that political differences among domestic parties prompt them to undermine the government by striking at its main achievement, which is the improvement in security. Another is that the US forces are behind it all, for they need an excuse to stay longer in the country.”

A third explanation, offered by Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bulani is Al-Qaeda. But so far no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The spokesman for the Accordance Front, Salim Al-Jaburi, accused those who “benefit from the presence of US troops” of masterminding the bombings.

General Abdel-Karim Khalaf of the Interior Ministry said that Al-Kazimiya bombings will “not impede the assumption of the Iraqi forces of their security duties under the agreement.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met President Talabani and Prime Minister Al-Maliki during a quick visit to Iraq last week. She said that the US is determined to withdraw by the end of 2011 and will make sure that the Iraqis have everything they need to enforce law and order. But General Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq, hinted at the possibility that US troops may stay in Mosul and Baqouba after the end of June (the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraqi cities) if there is a need to do so. There has been no reaction from the Iraqi side.

Meanwhile, British troops began their withdrawal from Iraq on Tuesday. The UK has 4,000 troops currently in Iraq and most are expected to leave by the end of May, with 400 staying behind to help train Iraqi forces.