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article imageViolence continues in Iraq, stoking fears of sectarian bloodbath

By Stephen Morgan     Apr 25, 2013 in World
Anger, fear and uncertainty grips Iraq today as people await developments in the growing Sunni conflict with government forces. Already 10 policeman and 9 Sunni gunmen were killed in a shoot-out in Mosul this morning.
Middle East Online reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki went on TV today to warn of attempts to return the country to "sectarian civil war." As an indication of the instability now present in Iraq, Reuters quotes Abdul Aziz al-Faris, a Sunni tribal leader in Hawija, as saying “things could spin out of control" unless the army backed down.
It was an attack by government forces on a Sunni protest camp in Hawijah on Tuesday, which sparked an escalation of unrest. There are no official figures for those killed in the clash, but estimates put it at around 50 people killed and 80 wounded. As a sign of the force being used by the army, Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, in Baghdad, said "The army is using helicopters.....hundreds of people have fled the area."
Violent confrontations between Sunni militiamen and government troops quickly spread to Tikrit, Sulaiman Pek, Tuz Khormato, Baji, Mosul, Tarmiya, al-Rashad, Khales, Fallujah and Al-Riyadh Diyala province. Most of the armed Sunni militias are now organizing in Anbar province towns of Ramadi and Fallujah, places which saw some of the fiercest fighting during the US occupation. Reuters quotes Sheikh Qusai al-Zain, a protest leader in Anbar province, as stating that "The Maliki government's aggression against our people in Hawija has forced us to take our uprising on another course." "We call upon all tribes and armed groups to begin supporting our brothers in Hawija."
The New York Times claims that “Hawija has long been a hide-out for an insurgent group made up of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and called the Men of the Army of Naqshbandia Order.” A spokesman for the protesters said they would “regroup as an “armed wing” of the Naqshbandia group”
Yesterday, Sunni gunmen took control of the town of Sulaiman Bek area north of Baghdad and Middle East Online quotes Niyazi Maamar Oghlu, a member of the provincial council in the province, who said that authorities had “lost control of the town.”
Al Qaeda, for the moment, doesn't seems to be playing an important role, but there was a car bomb in a Baghdad market on Wednesday, which killed 8 people and wounded 23 others. As yet no one has claimed responsibility. A large number of Al Qaeda's forces in Iraq have, however, headed north to participate in the Syrian civil war.
The death toll from the fighting in the last two days has been put at 128 killed and 269 wounded, but a correspondent for Al Arabiya, who is at the scene, said the death toll is much higher. Middle East Online reports that yesterday, “Hundreds of mourners walked on the main road past the provincial council building in Kirkuk city alongside vehicles carrying 34 coffins. They chanted "We sacrifice for you, Iraq" and "We will take revenge for the martyrs of Hawijah.” They continued on to Hawijah, west of Kirkuk, where the funerals took place.
Sunni political representatives have stridently denounced the government action. Al Arabiya reports in another article that Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi described “the incident in Hawija as a “catastrophe,” adding that the army’s action against the protesters was a “flagrant violation of the constitution.” Middle East Online quotes Kirkuk's Deputy Governor Rakan as saying "What happened was a massacre, and the situation is catastrophic and dangerous.” It also quotes the head of the “Iraqi list,” a parliamentary bloc, Suleiman al-Gamili, who declared that the “army has become the enemy in the eyes of the Iraqi people.” Prime Minister Maliki has promised an investigation into what happened and also some reforms, but people on the ground don't think this will be enough to stop the violence.
Tensions have been rising for some time, since Sunnis started protesting last December against what they see as marginalization and discrimination by the Shiite dominated administration. Shiites make up the majority of the population in Iraq and dominate the government and armed forces. The economic and political situation of the Sunni minority has deteriorated dramatically since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Al Anbar province, which is the main Sunni region, is a very poor area without oil or other resources. Under Hussein, the national oil revenues were distributed throughout the country, but now, with most of the oil industry situated in the Shiite south or in the Kurdish north, the revenues go overwhelmingly to these two groups. Since this policy emanates from Shiite control of the government, Sunni anger is focused on them.
The great fear is that confrontation could lead back to a repeat of the sectarian violence of 2006-2007, in which tens of thousands died. At that time, the fighting was predominately between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. Reuters reports that the two main Shi'ite militias, Asaib al-Haq and Kataeb Hizbullah, don't seem to be involved at the moment. However, the news source adds that “former fighters said they could take up arms again if needed.” They are capable of mobilizing tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of supporters and the consequences would be frightening.
In another related development today, George Bush opened his new presidential library and museum. When asked by ABC about his decision to invade Iraq, Bush said he remained "very comfortable" with it, adding that “it was the right decision for not only our own security but for giving people a chance to live in a free society.”
More about Iraq, Sunni, Attacks, Government, Sectarian
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