Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Forgotten Destruction Of Qawliya, Iraq By The Mahdi Army

Of all the acts of violence left in the wake of the Sadr movement, one that seems to have been forgotten is its attack upon the town of Qawliya in Qadisiyah province. In March 2004, Mahdi Army fighters came to the village and leveled it. Qawliya was inhabited by gypsies, which the Sadr Trend had been criticizing since the time of Moqtada al-Sadr’s father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr. It was quite common for Iraqis to vilify the community, and associate it with crime and prostitution. After the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, the Sadrists attacked several gypsy villages, with Qawliya being its most notorious act.

The aftermath of the Mahdi Army attack upon Qawliya, March 2004 (Washington Post)

Qawliya was a small gypsy town near Diwaniya, which was destroyed in March 2004. It had a seedy history, being known for prostitution and weapons smuggling. On March 12, 2004, it was wiped out by members of the Mahdi Army. A spokesman for the Sadr office in Diwaniya said that for months it had been working to get the gypsies to end what he called their sinful and criminal behavior with no results. Then one day a father came to the Sadr office looking for his 12-year old daughter who he said had been taken to Qawliya against her will. When Sadrists went to the town, there was a confrontation, with one of its members being killed. The spokesman said they left afterwards, and it was the neighbors who ended up destroying the village. The altercation seems to be agreed upon by other sources, but the rest of the story by the Sadrists is disputed. According to Larry Diamond, who was working with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) at the time on democracy promotion, the Mahdi Army went to Qawliya trying to arrest a woman on moral charges on instructions from one of Sadr’s sharia courts. There was a showdown with local police and villagers, which led to shots being fired, and a militiaman being killed. The Washington Post reported that the Sadrists came back with more than 100 men, armed with heavy weapons including mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which they used to attack the village. They then burned it down, and used a bulldozer to knock down houses. Most of the 1,000 residents were warned beforehand, and were able to flee. The neighbors then came in and looted the remains. Afterward, 18 villagers were arrested at a Mahdi Army checkpoint, and held for ten days in one of their jails, and tortured. They were then transferred to another Sadrist prison in Najaf, before they were given to local police, and eventually ended up at the CPA offices in that city. Many of the residents ended up being internally displaced persons in Karbala, Najaf, and Hillah. An investigation by the Coalition Authority later found that the Sadrists attacked Qawliya to show its power in Qadisiyah. It was an easy target as well, because gypsies had long been vilified in Iraqi society, so the locals and the government would not strenuously object to the Mahdi Army’s actions.

That proved true as no one was ever punished for the crime. The police in Diwaniya never responded, investigated or arrested anyone for the attack. The Mahdi Army claimed that they were not responsible. The police chief and his deputy in Diwaniya were eventually removed as a result, probably under American pressure, but that was it. Some members of the CPA were outraged by the events in Qawliya, but because it lacked a policy on how to handle Moqtada al-Sadr it did nothing about it.

Qawliya was just the most notorious example of a general trend towards persecuting gypsies in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Immediately after the overthrow of the government, people began accusing the community of being supporters of Saddam. Religious groups singled them out for selling alcohol and running prostitution rings. In a similar situation to Qawliya, gypsies in the town of Kamalia were driven out by armed men, probably Sadrists, as the Trend then appropriated their houses, and began selling them off. After Qawliya, the Mahdi Army also attacked gypsies in Abu Ghraib and Hillah. The Sadrists were partly inspired by the writings of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father who gave a number of sermons calling on gypsies to change their ways. The Mahdi Army attacks post-2003 were also a way to assert itself in southern Iraq. The fact that nothing was ever done about Qawliya egged on the Mahdi Army to further acts of violence, and was a prelude to its challenging the Coalition in their uprisings of 2004. It pointed to the growing anarchy that Iraq was falling into at that time, and how minorities were major victims.


Bahadur, Gaiutra, “In now-religious Iraq, no tolerance for Gypsies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/6/05

Diamond, Larry, Squandered Victory, The American Occupation And The Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq, New York: Times Books, 2005
- “What Went Wrong in Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2004

Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006

Shadid, Anthony, “In a Gypsy Village’s Fate, An Image of Iraq’s Future,” Washington Post, 4/3/04

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Despite Ups And Downs Iraq’s Oil Industry Sees Large Growth In 2012

Like every year Iraq’s oil output was up and down throughout 2012. Despite that, the country saw large gains overall. That included the highest production and exports in 30 years, and a huge increase in revenues. This was the result of the work of foreign companies operating in southern Iraq, the opening of two new mooring points that allowed for greater foreign sales, and continued tension in the Middle East that kept petroleum prices high.

Iraq ended on a down note in December. For the month, it exported an average of 2.35 million barrels a day. That was an 11% drop from November’s 2.62 million barrels. The southern pipeline exported an average of 2.022 million in December, down from 2.122 million the previous month. The northern pipeline saw a larger decline going from 426,600 barrels in November to 325,800 in December. 11,000 barrels was also trucked to Jordan a day. December’s decline was due to two main factors. First, bad weather again hit the port in Basra, which delays tankers from docking and loading their cargos. Second, the Kurds cut off their exports for the second time in 2012. Just like the last time, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) accused Baghdad of refusing to pay the companies that operate there for their costs. The central government was due to make a second payment of $296.6 million, but failed to deliver. Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Shahristani said that Kurdistan was not meeting its export quotas, which it was not, but the main issue was the unresolved conflict between the two over who has the authority to sign oil deals. In September, the two sides came to a new export deal, but it quickly broke down just as the previous two did, because of the outstanding issues between Baghdad and Irbil. The Kurds ended up stopping exports on December 21 as a result. Until those differences are resolved more of these short-term agreements will come and go. The problem of bad weather in the south has afflicted Iraq for decades, and requires a large investment in new infrastructure to overcome. Baghdad has that on its to do list, but has not done anything concrete about it yet.

To go along with the decrease in exports, Iraq’s oil also declined in price last month. For December, a barrel of Iraqi crude went for $103.72, down from $104.32 in November. This was part of a three-month decline in prices. As a result, Iraq earned $7.551 billion in December, compared to $8.2 billion in November, making it the fourth lowest monthly total for 2012.

Iraq Oil Exports And Profits 2011-2012
Avg. Price Per Barrel
Revenue (Bil)
Jan. 11
2011 Avg.
Jan. 12

Oil Exports Through Basra 2012
January 1.711 mil/bar/day
February 1.639 mil/bar/day
March 1.917 mil/bar/day
April 2.115 mil/bar/day
May 2.086 mil/bar/day
June 2.085 mil/bar/day
July 2.216 mil/bar/day
August 2.252 mil/bar/day
September 2.178 mil/bar/day
October 2.172 mil/bar/day
November 2.122 mil/bar/day
December 2.022 mil/bar/day

Oil Exports Through Kirkuk 2012
January 393,500 bar/day
February 375,800 bar/day
March 400,000 bar/day
April 393,300 bar/day
May 364,500 bar/day
June 316,600 bar/day
July 300,000 bar/day
August 312,900 bar/day
September 420,000 bar/day
October 451,600 bar/day
November 426,600 bar/day
December 325,800 bar/day

In December, Iraq and Jordan also agreed to a new pipeline that would connect Iraq’s southern fields with the port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. At the same time, Baghdad said it would increase its exports to Jordan from 10,000 barrels a day to 15,000. That petroleum is used for domestic use in Jordan, and is extremely important to the local economy there. It is also sold at below market value to maintain good relations between the two countries. The plan for a new pipeline is part of Iraq’s attempt to decrease its dependence upon the port in Basra for the majority of its exports. The potential for conflict between the West and Iran remains high, and that could cut off shipping through the Persian Gulf, which could strangle Iraq’s economy. Baghdad is exploring other possible export routes as well.

For the year, Iraq reached some impressive benchmarks. First, in March, it produced over 3 million barrels of oil for the first time in 30 years. That was surpassed in September when it reached 3.2 million barrels. Exports saw a big increase as well, hitting an average of 2.565 million barrels a day in August, again a 30 year high. That mark was passed in October and November when Iraq reached 2.62 million barrels in exports. The major cause for the impressive numbers was the opening of two new mooring stations in the port of al-Faw in March and April. The lack of onshore pumping stations and other new pipelines are still an issue. For example, the two moorings can’t operate simultaneously, so even though they have a capacity of 850,000-900,000 barrels a day each, they can only work at half of that until new lines are built. Still, exports overall went up 11% for the year to 2.41 million barrels compared to 2011’s 2.16 million. Continued tensions in the Middle East and North Africa also kept prices high at an average of $106.20 per barrel for Iraqi crude, up from $105.00 in 2011. The results were record revenues going from $82.968 billion in 2011 to $94.025 billion in 2012. The future of prices this year is more uncertain. Countries that had drops because of their internal conflicts such as Libya are starting to pump more oil. At the same time sanctions against Iran have resulted in a major decline in their exports. There is also a conflict within OPEC over whether countries are overproducing, which could result in a drop in international prices. Iraq’s plans to continue to produce and export as much as possible could run into problems as a result. They could either continue to benefit from the high prices due to problems with Iran and other countries or their policy could contribute to their decline.

Iraq is slowly, but surely recovering from the negative effects of decades of wars and sanctions. 2012 was a notable year as the country returned to its petroleum production levels of the 1980s. This year it could even surpass those figures. There is still massive work ahead, especially in terms of infrastructure before it can reach its potential. The central government’s running war of words with Kurdistan over oil contracts will continue as well, but will have little impact upon overall numbers as the vast majority of oil is located in the south. Still, Kurdish exports can be expected to come and go through the northern pipeline for the foreseeable future. The real issue facing Iraq is the world energy market. If prices drop, Baghdad might be forced to re-think some of its short-term goals. The country has already begun to re-work deals with international countries to par down its strategic production goals. Further cuts may come otherwise Iraq could end up hurting itself by pushing exports during a time when the market is being flooded with oil from other producers.


Agence France Presse, “Bad weather, dispute with Kurdish region weigh on Iraq oil exports,” 1/21/13
- “Iraq agrees to extend oil pipeline through Jordan,” 12/24/12
- “Iraq oil exports highest in 30 years,” 9/1/12

Ajrash, Kadhim and Razzouk, Nayla, “Iraq Kurds Halt Crude Exports, Central Government Official Says,” Bloomberg, 12/24/12

Bakr, Amena and Mackey, Peg, “Iraq-Saudi OPEC standoff over next oil curbs,” Reuters, 12/12/12

Dow Jones, “Iraq December Oil Exports Down 11% On Month,” 1/7/13

Hafidh, Hassan, “Iraq Oil Sales Revenue Falls In November, Up On Year,” Dow Jones, 12/4/12

Hatcher, Jane, “Iraq oil exports bring in over 8bln in USD in November: statement,” Xinhua, 12/25/12

Mohammed, Aref, “Iraq south oilfields to pump 2.75 mbpd by end 2012,” Reuters, 4/20/12

Al Rafidayn, “Iraq says it obscures payments for Kurdish oil exports,” 12/22/12

Rasheed, Ahmed, “Iraq sees reaching 6 man bpd by 2017,” Reuters, 9/15/12

Republic of Iraq Ministry of Oil, “Iraq Crude Oil Exports – December 2012,” 1/21/13

Reuters, “Iraq says to withhold payments for Kurdish oil,” 12/21/12

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/12

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Interview With Iraq Body Count

The U.K.-based Iraq Body Count (IBC) is the premier organization for tracking deaths and violence in Iraq. Since its founding in 2002, it has kept a running count of the casualties caused by the Iraq War, which is constantly updated. Its work has also been included in various studies, and is a constant reminder of the costs of the conflict there. This is an interview with two members of IBC, Hamit Dardagan and Josh Dougherty.

1. What was the impetus for creating Iraq Body Count (IBC), and what year did it start?

The principal impetus for starting IBC in late 2002 was to ensure that the deaths of civilians in the forthcoming war would stay firmly in public view, remain a prominent part of debate and discussion about the war, and be considered soberly and appropriately. More specifically, it was to ensure that the cumulative number of reported civilian deaths would become an accessible part of the public record.

A notable, but not untypical, example of discussion detached from any pertinent data was Tony Blair’s eve-of-war statement to the U.K. Parliament that “[Saddam Hussein] will be responsible for many, many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict.” This might or might not have been true according to the best evidence available at the time, but to make a quantitative claim without so much as mentioning any relevant data is surely unacceptable, and all the more so when so much is at stake for those affected. Indeed, our data proved Blair’s unsupported claim to have been simply false. More civilians were killed in just the first two months of the war in 2003 than were killed by Saddam Hussein’s government in the year before, or indeed for many years before. One would have to go back at least to the early 1990s to find any plausible evidence for deaths on a similar or greater scale. Blair’s claim went mostly unquestioned, but, given that it dealt with an essentially numerical question was of the sort that would not have been permissible for a politician to make without closer examination if it had been about, say, taxation.

One of the ways in which IBC has developed since that time is our recognition that no one else, currently, is fulfilling this role with the same rigor, at least not publicly. Thus from a role, which has been primarily directed at the West, we are now moving to one that recognizes our potential role as the source of record for Iraqis too, and will shortly introduce an Arabic translated version of the site that takes us more visibly in this direction.

2. How does IBC collect its information on deaths in Iraq?

We primarily collect our data from online news media or other publicly available reporting sources, supplemented by official records where and when these become available. This needs to be done 7 days a week. From these reports we extract not just the numbers killed and injured, but a range of detailed variables such as the location, time and date, weapons used, perpetrators, victim demographics such as age and sex, profession and marital status, and name; all wherever possible, of course, as these things are not always reported.

Surprisingly, perhaps, we have some demographic information on at least 42% of the dead, and the weapons involved for 93% of incidents. One of the most important pieces of information that is still woefully limited is the victim name; currently this is recorded for less than 8% of the dead.

One might think that once a death or a particular violent incident is reported by the press, it’s in the record, but because there are so many such reports, spread across so many different sources, particularly when the violence is at elevated levels, with the latest news pushing yesterday’s aside, or after a week or so, totally overwhelming it, it is all too easy to lose track or confuse events with others.

Very soon the scale and number of these incidents is lost from view, and for ordinary news consumers at least, all that’s really noticeable are the most unusual or large-scale events. And individual news agencies never manage to comprehensively cover all reported deaths. Generally it’s just those within their own network of correspondents and contacts.

So there are two kinds of biases that we have to work against: the first is the editorial impetus to push ‘regular’, unremarkable news such as the violent death of, say, a single, ordinary Iraqi into obscure corners of the press. It’s reported, but demoted to the “inner pages” in print terms, or hidden many paragraphs into an article. This is the main reason why an ordinary news consumer will be astonished to learn that, provided you go looking for it, and have access to subscription news databases such as Lexis-Nexis, much more is reported about Iraqi deaths than one would imagine.

The second bias is that the press more consistently reports larger incidents than smaller ones. Thus there is essentially blanket coverage by the local and Iraq based international media of larger-scale events, but when incidents are smaller, and involve fewer deaths, the coverage becomes more patchy. One therefore needs to monitor as full as possible a range of sources and reports, and carefully combine them to provide a more comprehensive picture, paying due attention to potential errors such as double counting.

It is our view, based on years of painstaking engagement with this work and close review of its limitations, that, at least where Iraq is concerned, it is in the main only incidents where a very small number of persons were killed that are likely to have been completely missed. The importance of this depends on how many of the deaths occur in this way, how quickly this coverage tails off at the smaller incident sizes, and whether there are cumulative sources available such as monthly reports from morgues or hospitals that are unaffected by incident size.

What is also certain is that finding all these reports, and stitching them all together, is not easy. As we’ve discovered, it takes a dedicated research effort to pull all this data together, and something much more rigorous than an ordinary monitoring of the news to extract and organize each item of useful information contained in that reporting.

3. What separates IBC from other groups that publish death counts such as the Iraqi government or icasualties used to do is that the numbers are constantly updated. Can you explain some of the process behind that?

I would say that the sharpest distinction between IBC and the data on casualties released by the Iraqi government, typically published simply as monthly totals, is that we continually publish disaggregated data specifying the time, place, and a systematic description of each deadly incident, with the number of people killed or whose bodies were found in each case. Of course, IBC’s data can be totaled at the end of every month to produce monthly numbers, but the user of our figures can look much deeper than this, and see what they are based on.

Given that IBC’s monthly figures have usually been higher than those released by the Iraqi government, for theirs to be correct and ours to be wrong, specific incidents in our database would have to have never occurred, or many incidents would have to have had lower death tolls than reported, which is all quite unlikely. Basically our figures are transparent enough to be verifiable, which is arguably one of the reasons they are taken seriously. Aggregate figures are much more impenetrable. We don’t know what specific deaths or incidents are included in them. For all we know, there could even be some deaths in the lower government totals that are not present in IBC, but without incident by incident listing, there is just no way to know.

By contrast to government figures, iCasualties, one of whose two co-founders took inspiration from IBC does publish disaggregated information like we do. Unlike us, their focus has primarily been on tracking and listing deaths among US and Coalition military forces. While they do also provide a listing of Iraqi casualties, it’s been my understanding that this has been more a secondary part of their project, which does not attempt to cover a wide range of reporting sources or claim to be a comprehensive record of reported deaths. As such, every time I have checked their site, their Iraqi civilians totals were lower than IBC’s for any given month. Perhaps a more important distinction is that iCasualties does not extract or present the range of other variables, such as listed in answer to Question 2 above, which thorough information-extraction process explains the 2-week or so delay before our formal data is published.

Much of the value of IBC’s work has not been in compiling an accumulated number, but in tracking all the associated information about victims and incidents, such as their age and sex, the location of their killing, and the weapons that killed them. These have formed the basis of several scientific papers published in major journals, co-authored by IBC and other researchers, which provide new insight into the human impact of the war in Iraq and perhaps other modern conflicts as well.

The constant updating, which I’m pleased you noticed, is important to IBC both as a means of underlining the fact that the violence itself is ongoing, which our data merely reflects, but also as part of the transparency we try to bring to the process: it is easier to trace recent facts than very old ones.

4. How did the Wikileaks release of Iraq war related documents affect IBC’s casualty figures?

There is no question that the WikiLeaks data has contributed greatly to public knowledge and understanding of the war’s impact on Iraqis. First, we estimated after an initial analysis of the documents that they would add around 15,000 previously unreported Iraqi civilian deaths to our total. We have formally added over 3,300 of these deaths to our database so far (listed here:, and this work continues. In addition to what they contribute in terms of numbers, the records also contain a wide range of specific details about particular incidents and victims, including thousands of victim’s names, which adds considerably to our understanding of the pervasive, day-to-day tragedies that have occurred throughout this war.

The WikiLeaks data also confirmed that as far as our other sources are concerned, it is primarily some of the smaller incidents that they tend to miss. We are finding that it is only incidents of this kind that we are able to add to our database from the logs.

5. IBC not only keeps aggregate numbers for those killed in Iraq, but tries to keep track of people’s names that lost their lives as well. Why is that important?

The importance of names can scarcely be overstated. One need only look at almost any  war memorial to understand this. It must always be remembered that we are not dealing simply with interchangeable units or numbers on a balance sheet, but rather individual human beings with unique lives and identities. Names help keep this perspective at the forefront. There are also technical reasons, such as the ability to differentiate between victims with greater reliability, for the bereaved to know the fate of loved ones who are presumed missing, and for those who are still missing to be correctly identified as such, that is, that they remain truly unaccounted for. But one of the main goals for any history of a war must be to treat its human losses in the appropriate manner; to record not just how many died, as important as this is, but who died.

6. There were several surveys early on in the Iraq war such as by ORB and the two published in the Lancet journal that estimated hundreds of thousands up to one million deaths in Iraq. What was Iraq Body Count’s opinion of those reports?

We think the surveys published about Iraq have been rather a mixed bag. The most credible have been the Iraq Living Conditions Survey (2005) by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Iraq Family Health Survey (2008) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Both have produced estimates that are higher than the corresponding IBC numbers over the periods covered, but within at least a plausible range. The surveys published by the Lancet (2006) and the polling group ORB (2007) are, however, clearly very large overestimates in our view.

We discussed some of our initial skepticism of the 2006 Lancet estimate shortly after it was published here: Since that time, there have also been multiple academic papers and other analyses that have been critical of that survey and called its findings into question for a variety of reasons. Taken together, we think it’s clear that that survey was simply wrong, and by a large margin. As for the ORB poll (2007), this was never taken as seriously as something like the Lancet survey, as its estimate was derived from a fairly crude opinion poll better suited to other purposes, and was not published in a serious journal. But it did initially make some public impact, perhaps in part because it seemed to somewhat ‘corroborate’ the very high estimate of the Lancet survey, and quite likely also because “a million” is an attention-grabbing and memorable number. However, a closer look indicates that the ORB poll was also a very big overestimate, and of insufficient quality to provide reliable corroboration whatever its findings. The problems with the ORB poll were discussed in detail in a paper co-authored by a member of the IBC team here:

7. Violence in Iraq has gone through trends from the initial invasion, to terrorism immediately afterward, to the civil war period, to the current one. What is the leading cause of death in Iraq these days, and is that the same or different from the civil war years?

I’d like to suggest that you and your readers answer this question for yourselves, using a tool we’ve produced – and haven’t really a good name for yet – that allows you to specify weapons, time-frames, provinces, and a number of other variables, and produce a graph (or download the comma-separated data) to this or other questions on matters for which we’ve collected formal data that allows descriptive statistics.

We’re still working on this tool to make it more detailed, but the point is to allow readers to perform their own investigations, realising that people have other interests than those which strike us as most important. Of course when there are trends which we find noteworthy we will continue to point these out, but as we’re dealing with a very large data set there is a lot of scope for people to explore it along the lines that most concern them.

The latest version of the tool is at

8. IBC has deaths going up for the last three years, yet said in its year-end analysis for 2012 that security was largely unchanged. Can you explain that?

We see the security situation as largely unchanged because the changes have been relatively small over the last three years. Actually, over the last four years each year has fallen within a pretty narrow band of between 4-5,000 deaths, much narrower than changes across previous years of the war. It’s highly unlikely that any two years will have the exact same number of deaths, so it’s mostly a matter of what degree of change is sizable enough to consider a significant change in the situation on the ground rather than just statistical ‘noise’. For example, the change in our totals for 2010-2011 is from 4,073 to 4,137. While that is indeed “going up” in an absolute sense, the difference is far too small to consider a national trend. It must also be remembered that simple variations in reporting patterns, rather than changes in the violence, or that having just a few more or a few less big bombings in one year than the next, could account for small changes in totals. The change between 2011-2012 is somewhat larger than 2010-2011, but still much smaller than previous notable changes in yearly levels across the war. Thus we note the increase in 2012, but viewed broadly, we don’t see this as clearly indicating any significant change in the general security situation across the country.

One point we need to always make in these discussions of trends, lest they become too abstract, is that of course, once one removes the “abstraction layer” of applying an annual or other time-frame, then 4,000 vs 4,073 deaths is not an “improvement” on the latter number: it simply represents 4,000 more people who have been killed and can hardly be considered an improvement on the previous state of affairs for those new victims and the bereaved. Deaths unfortunately can only ever be cumulative.

9. Finally, the Iraqi government’s figures and IBC’s have been going in opposite directions for a little over a year now with the official numbers decreasing. Can you explain the difference in statistics?

We can’t, for the reasons touched on above. Without seeing the disaggregated incident-level data, there’s no way to tell what deaths we have that they do not, or vice versa. If we view the different totals as implying that their figures are challenging ours – that our figures are somehow too high – there’s no way to tell which of the deaths in our totals are being ‘disputed’ in the first place, and so no way to resolve the dispute. Moreover, there has been no clear methodology described for the data that’s been released by the government in recent years. It is reported as being compiled from data from the ministries of Health, Interior and Defense, but that’s basically the full extent of what is known. The underlying practice of how this is done, and therefore what might account for something like deaths going unrecorded, remains impossible to determine. What we can say is that we stand behind our numbers, which by contrast can be examined in  detail, and think that whatever the precise explanation for these discrepancies, that explanation will primarily involve some unspecified limitation of the methods being used to produce the Iraqi government’s monthly figures.


Iraq Body Count, “Iraqi deaths from violence in 2012,” 1/1/13

Monday, January 28, 2013

Deadly Clash Between Iraqi Security Forces And Protesters In Anbar

In late-January 2012 there was a deadly showdown between protesters and the Iraqi army in the city of Fallujah in Anbar province. Demonstrators were stopped from joining a large rally in the city, which led to a confrontation, shots being fired, and dozens of casualties. This points to the increasing tensions between the protest movement, which is in its second month, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Baghdad is giving lip service to meeting their demands, but if the premier’s reactions to the demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 are any indicator, his main priority is putting an end to them.

Funeral for three protesters killed by the army on Feb. 25 in Fallujah (Reuters)

On January 25, 2013, Iraq’s latest protest movement turned deadly. On that day, a group of people heading to a large gathering in Fallujah was stopped at an army checkpoint in the western section of the city. The crowd turned rowdy, and started throwing bottles and rocks at the soldiers, leading them to open fire. Nine people ended up dead, and 60 were wounded. Immediately afterward, the acting Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi ordered the army to withdraw from sections of the city to prevent any further clashes, and said an investigation would be opened into the incident. Prime Minister Maliki called on the army to show restraint. At the same time, he said that foreign intelligence agents were behind the demonstrations, and blamed protesters for the violence since they assaulted the checkpoint. Within Fallujah itself, tensions were running high. Various leaders in Anbar threatened violence against the army in retaliation, and demanded the arrest of the soldiers responsible for the shooting. There were also reports of men carrying guns being seen walking the streets before a curfew was imposed. An army checkpoint was later attacked, which resulted in the death of one soldier and the burning of a vehicle. One soldier was also killed and another wounded by a sniper. It was unclear whether this was the same or a different incident. The mayor of Fallujah later said that there were instigators amongst the crowd that led to the army firing on them. Anti-government assemblies have been going on in Fallujah for the last two months. This was the first time there were any fatalities, and raised tensions between the protest movement and the government in Baghdad. More clashes are likely to occur in the future as anger grows amongst the demonstrators, and the government attempts to place ever greater restrictions upon them.

Protests in Anbar started in December 2012 after the Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s guards were arrested on terrorism charges. Fallujah and Ramadi immediately saw large crowds gather in support of the Minister, as Issawi is originally from the former. Those quickly spread to Salahaddin, Ninewa, Tamim, and Diyala provinces, along with the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad. The demonstrators have called for the release of prisoners, an end to torture, the reversal of deBaathification and the anti-terrorism law, and the removal of Maliki. While these seem like legitimate demands, the way they have been presented are often implicitly, and sometimes explicitly sectarian. The crowds for example are often seen flying the old Iraqi flag of the Saddam era, which harkens back to the time when Sunnis ran the country, but invokes negative reactions by others. This reflects the mood amongst Sunnis that they have become the victim of the new Iraq, claiming that the Shiite ruling parties have marginalized them since the 2003 invasion. The fact that the insurgency has issued statements in support of the movement has not helped. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri for example, the head of the outlawed Baath Party and the Naqshibandi insurgent group said that he supported the protests, and called for them to overthrow the government, which he accused of being run by Iran. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s front group, the Islamic State of Iraq has issued similar comments. Despite those issues, the movement has grown so large that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called on Baghdad to deal with the demonstrators’ demands. This is the third straight year that Iraq has seen protests. The previous two years the cause was the lack of services, corruption, and unhappiness with the government. Those issues are still in play, but the movement has failed to gain any real support outside of largely Sunni areas. That has only increased tensions with the prime minister who didn’t like the previous two protest movements, and sees plots behind the new one, because of its sectarian tone. Despite being firmly in power, Maliki and other leaders of the Shiite religious parties still fear the return of the Baath Party, and have projected that paranoia upon the new demonstrations.

Just like in 2012 Maliki has used his own demonstrations like this one in Karbala to counter the anti-government ones (CNN)

Like the last two years, Baghdad has responded with a carrot and stick approach. The prime minister’s media adviser Ali Hussein Musawi told the press that the government is dealing with the protesters’ demands. Acting Defense Minister Dulaimi and Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shaia’a Sudani have made trips to Anbar to talk with the protesters. The Justice Ministry announced that it released 721 women in December who had served their sentences, while the governor of Anbar said that 900 former soldiers and policemen had been reinstated in the province. Those were the carrots. The use of the stick is increasing. For one, Maliki has accused political parties of paying people to show up at the protests, and claimed that they do not represent the street. The premier has also stated that foreign powers are causing the problems, and that the demonstrators want to bring back the Baath Party. A member of the prime minister’s State of Law list told the press that some protesters were supporters of Al Qaeda in Iraq, while another parliamentarian claimed that they were attempting to start a civil war like in Syria, which would destroy the country. On the ground, the security forces have stopped protesters from attending events in Anbar, Ninewa, Baghdad, Salahaddin, and Tamim. On January 11, there was a clash between the security forces and protesters in Mosul for example, when they blocked off the main square, and then attacked the crowd, firing shots in the air, which ended up wounding eight. On January 25, the Ninewa Operations Command barred the media from covering an assembly in Mosul. In early January, the government also shut down three border crossings with Syria and Jordan in Ninewa and Anbar. Allegedly, this was done for security reasons, but it appears it was meant to punish the provinces economically by cutting off their trade in retaliation for the protests. Finally, Maliki has called out his supporters in pro-government marches, which have occurred throughout southern Iraq. This is almost an exact replay of how the 2011 and 2012 protest movements were dealt with. Then, Maliki promised reforms as concessions to the street. At the same time, he issued orders to the authorities to restrict protests, rallied his followers in counter-marches, and arrested and harassed members of the media and protest leaders. It took several months, but the assemblies were eventually broken up. Those same tactics are being employed now.

There is much pent up animosity within Iraq over the lack of good governance, which is why there have been three straight years of protests. This year has been different as it is only occurring in Sunni areas, and much of their rhetoric expresses the anger of that community over what they see as an increasingly Shiite supremacist regime. The movement appears to becoming more organized with each day, but also more sectarian. The response of Prime Minister Maliki is the same as to the previous two year’s movements, but with added criticism and invective since he sees this as a possible avenue for his enemies both foreign and domestic to challenge his power. What happened in Fallujah on January 25 was not a planned clash, but the result of the premier’s increasing use of the security forces to limit the scope of the protests. Before, that the incident in Mosul could have easily resulted in deaths, instead of just a few wounded from gunfire by the security forces. More of these clashes can be expected in the future, as Baghdad slowly, but surely tries to choke the life out of them.


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