A female bomber struck in Diyala province’s capitol Baquba today, August 12. This comes after another female bomber attacked a police checkpoint in the city yesterday. The target this time was the provincial governor Raad Rashid al-Tamimi who escaped with no injuries, but three civilians were killed and three others were wounded. The attack comes while Iraqi and U.S. forces are carrying out Operation Promise of Good there that kicked off on July 29. Two controversies have erupted during the crackdown.
First, the provincial council voted yesterday to remove the Diyala police chief from office, General Ghanim al-Qureysi. The general, a Shiite, had constant tensions with the Sunni Sons of Iraq (SOI) in the province. Back in December 2007, local police tried to arrest an SOI leader for kidnapping, which led to a shoot out between the two sides. In January 2008, SOI in two towns protested the arrest of their members. Finally, in February several SOI units went on strike for several days demanding the removal of General Ghanim claiming that he ran death squads, kidnapped Sunnis, and his police raped and killed two women in a village. The SOI also demanded that they be integrated into the police, that Sunni prisoners be released, and aid be given to refugees that wanted to return. The police chief in turn accused the SOI of ethnic cleansing and sectarian attacks. The protests turned violent one day resulting in several deaths, but eventually ended in March when the general agreed to hire several hundred SOI into the police force. The SOI continued to clash with the police afterwards, and was probably a factor in the general’s removal. The police chief has not gone quietly, accusing the local politicians of being thieves, while his supporters protested against his removal. The religious tensions between Sunni and Shiites have been one of the major factors behind violence in the province.
The second issue involves the Kurds. The mayor of Jalawlaa in northern Diyala complained that Iraqi Army units and the formation of SOI and new police units there were causing tensions with Kurdish Peshmerga militias in the area. He said that creating SOI and a new Arab-only police force were seen as threats by the Kurds, and that could lead to violence. The Kurds occupy several northern sections of Diyala and hope to annex them to Kurdistan. Along with the sectarian fighting, many residents of the province have left their homes and become refugees because of tensions with the Kurds.
Diyala’s mixed ethnic and religious composition has been the source of the provinces’ problems. Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs and Kurds have all fought each other at one time. The current government operation is aimed at Sunni insurgents and Iranian backed Shiite militias, but that will only reduce violence, not end it. Baghdad needs to address the deep-seated divisions between different groups in Diyala if it hopes to pacify it. A similar crackdown in the northern city of Mosul failed to address the underlying causes of the conflict there, and attacks continued unabated and a new government offensive is now planned there. This could replay in Diyala as well, because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has only mastered the use of force in Iraq, not services or reconciliation, which is needed to turn short-term security gains into long-term stability.
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