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Iraq: Off the News?
Over the past four drawn-out weeks, the atrocious war in Lebanon overshadowed the horrid deaths that were also occurring in Iraq let alone in Palestine and elsewhere in the broader region...

19 August   |   2006   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... Almost every day, whilst our television screens in Europe were reporting the pounding devastation of Lebanon, very little was heard about Iraq, about the mayhem in Baghdad, Karbala or Mosul. For those who did not follow the news closely, it would have been easy to presume that the violence in Iraq had somehow subsided and things were at long last getting better.

Such optimism for Iraq is a far cry from the truth! One look at the figures published by the Ministry of Health and the Baghdad morgue reflect an alarming crescendo in the number of deaths resulting from the exploding sectarian strife that has almost spiralled out of control and led to the large-scale displacement of entire communities.

According to figures from both the morgue and the ministry - which are undercounted or underreported, according to UN and military analysts - the total number of civilian deaths last month showed a 9% jump over that of June, and nearly double the toll in January. This tally for civilian deaths, when added to the UN-collated Iraqi government numbers for previous months, shows an average of 2,539 per month for the first seven months of 2006. The Iraq Body Count (an ongoing human security project whose casualty figures are derived from a comprehensive survey of online media reports and eyewitness accounts) revealed in its latest database that between 40,340 and 44,871 Iraqi civilians have been reported killed since the military intervention in 2003.

Salam Pax , an Iraqi blogger who writes gripping, yet witty and quirky, accounts of life in beleaguered central Iraq produced on 17 th July a videoblog How To Stay Alive in Iraq showing that many ordinary Iraqis are failing to cope with the constant risk of insurgent attacks and the deteriorating situation in the country. Salam Pax wrote:

When you leave your house, you expect to die in an explosion or to get shot. To stay as safe as possible, people avoid certain jobs, clothing or neighbourhoods. The problem is that every day, the list of things to avoid becomes longer. Bakeries are bombed for selling bread to the Iraqi police, barbers because they shave beards. Now sportsmen are being targeted for wearing shorts and anyone wearing jeans, anything red or hair gel is also at risk. There is nothing cheaper than Iraqi blood. Deaths have become normal.

Ever since the 14 th of June, the Iraqi government has been struggling to implement a revised security plan that is meant to stymie the insurgents as much as quell the increased violence and fragmentation of parts of Iraq into ethnic or sectarian enclaves controlled by militias. However, the reality today is that outside the uniformly Kurdish or Shi'ite areas, largely in the north and south, the Iraqi central government has little control. The insurgency rages on, without a clear direction, despite elections, constitutions, appointments, trainings, curfews or even the killing of leading insurgents / al-Qa'eda figureheads. According to the New York Times , a classified report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency entitled Iraq Update used empirical data to endorse the unrelenting slide of Iraq into civil war.

In his The Republic of Fear (1989), the Iraqi author and erstwhile political dissident Kana'an Makiya revealed the reality of fear in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Yet, that fear has not been extirpated from a post-Saddam Iraq: it is still endemic and acute in different ways across many Iraqi communities. One telling example is the way that mosque attendance has plummeted in many Sunni or Shi'ite neighbourhoods - such as Dawra, Adhamiya or Kadhimiya - as a result of the raw fear that grips ordinary Iraqi men and women or the security measures that necessarily impede their free movement.   

If the present chaos continues at its current decibels, or if Iraq were allowed to divide along specious ethnic lines and collapse further into blood-thirsty disorder and blood-soaked anarchy, I fear that the potential domino effects on the broader Middle East and on the global political system would truly be frightening if not possibly shattering.

I have often argued in the past that the strategy behind the military intervention in Iraq in 2003 was both ill-advised and counterproductive, as it was based on spurious tactical considerations ranging from geo-strategy to energy resources. I have also often added that the occupying powers have a serious political let alone moral responsibility to find adequate solutions to the unravelling fabric of society in some parts of Iraq today.

However, regardless of any individual viewpoints, whether yours or mine, the cat has already been let out amongst the pigeons, and so our task today is to seek a human-centred and values-based approach that might perhaps help douse the woes of Iraq and rectify a decidedly bleak situation. As such, Iraqis should forsake their imbedded sectarian rivalries for the sake of a more stable and secure future for their whole country. Otherwise, such a future would dim further, so much so that Iraqi citizens could no longer even hope to become masters of their own destinies again. Is it not high time for all parties to wake up, to rise above their narrow interests, and to labour for a convivial - and therefore peaceful - choice?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2006   |   19 August


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