Situation in Iraq could not be worse
By Patrick Cockburn
" -- -- BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A
cruel and bloody civil war has started in Iraq, a country that
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to
free from fear and establish democracy. I have been visiting
Iraq since 1978, but for the first time, I am becoming convinced
that the country will not survive.
Three suicide bombers disguised themselves as women Friday and,
with explosives hidden by long black cloaks, killed 79 people
and wounded more than 160 when they blew themselves up in a
Shiite mosque in the capital. One bomber came through the
women's security checkpoint at the Buratha mosque in northern
Baghdad and detonated explosives just as worshippers were
leaving at the end of Friday prayers.
Two other bombers took advantage of the confusion to blow
themselves up a few seconds later, killing the people who were
trying to escape.
The savage attack, the worst in months, came almost exactly on
the third anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by
American and British armies on April 9, 2003. The war was
portrayed at the time as freeing Iraqis from fear, but Iraqi
officials have told The Independent that at least 100 people are
being killed in Baghdad every day.
The slaughter of Shiite Muslims in the Buratha mosque probably
will lead to revenge attacks against Sunni Arabs whose community
harbors the Salafi and Jihadi fanatics, who see the Shiites as
heretics. Ever since the bombing of the al-Askari Shrine in
Samara on Feb. 22, the Shiite militias have retaliated whenever
Shiites are killed.
The bombing of the mosque, a religious complex linked to the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, pushes Iraq
well down the road to outright civil war between Sunni and
Shiite Arabs. Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, the preacher in the
Buratha mosque, declared: "The Shiite are the target and it's a
sectarian act. There is nothing to justify this act but black
Men screamed in anger and fear as they rolled the bodies of the
dead onto wooden carts so they could be loaded into ambulances.
"This is a cowardly act. Every time I see these bloody scenes it
tears apart my heart," said Jawwad Kathim, a fireman.
It was the worst sectarian bombing for four months. The day
before a car bomb exploded near the Shiite shrine of Imam Ali in
Najaf, killing 13 people.
"My house is opposite to the mosque and when we heard the first
blast I ran to make sure that my father, who was praying there,
was safe," Naba Mohsin said. "When I entered the mosque a second
huge blast occurred and I saw a big blast with flames. I want to
know if my father is alive."
I have been covering the war in Iraq ever since it began three
years ago and I have never seen the situation so grim. More than
a week ago, I was in the northern city of Mosul, protected by
3,000 Kurdish soldiers, but even so it was considered too
dangerous to send out patrols in daytime. It is safer at night
because of a curfew.
In March alone, the U.S. military said 1,313 people were killed
in sectarian attacks. Many bodies, buried in pits or thrown in
the rivers, are never found.
The real figure is probably twice as high. All over the country
people are on the move as Sunnis and Shiites flee each other's
I was in Lebanon at the start of the civil war in 1975. Baghdad
today resembles Beirut then. People are being murdered solely
because of their religious identity. A friend called to say he
had a problem because his two half brothers had been born in
Fallujah, the Sunni Muslim stronghold, and this was on their
identity cards. If they were picked up by Shiite militiamen, a
glance at their place of birth alone could get them killed.
Fleeing one danger in Baghdad, it is easy to become victim of
The friend had taken his mother and two sisters to the passport
office in Baghdad so they could leave the country. While they
were there, a bomb went off, killing 25 policemen outside and
breaking his sister's leg.
Now the family cannot leave because his sister is in the
hospital and his mother is too frightened to return to get a new
Bush and Blair have for the past three years continually
understated the gravity of what is taking place. It has been
frustrating as a journalist to hear them claim that much of Iraq
is peaceful when we could not prove them wrong without being
killed or kidnapped. The capture of Saddam in 2003, the handover
of sovereignty in 2004, the elections and new constitution in
2005 have all been oversold to the outside world as signs of
The formation of a national unity government in Iraq is now
being presented as an antidote to the violence. "Terrorists love
a vacuum," said British Defense Secretary John Reid, citing his
experience in Northern Ireland. But one Iraqi official remarked
that the three main communities -- Sunni, Shiite and Kurds -- do
not hate one another because they do not have a government, but
rather they do not have a government because they already hate
The coalition of Iraqi religious parties, the United Iraqi
Alliance, won almost half the seats in the 275-member parliament
in the election on Dec.15. They fear the United States and
Britain are trying to break up the Shiite coalition. This is why
they have resisted demands for Ibrahim al-Jaafari to stand down
as prime minister. Even if a national unity government is
formed, it will control very little. The army and police take
their orders from the leaders of their own communities.
Three years ago, when Saddam's statue was toppled, Iraqis were
promised their lives would get better. Instead Iraq has become
the most dangerous place in the world.
Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent in Britain.
© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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