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Middle East and North Africa

Ramadan killings plague Iraq

For Muslims around the world, the holy month of Ramadan is a time for reflection, self-improvement, charity, and good deeds. However, in Iraq, this year’s Ramadan (which commenced last week and will end on August 9) has been thus far sullied by a string of attacks.

Yesterday, four people—including a 10-year-old boy—were killed in a mortar barrage on the Tigris River near the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, in an attack that wounded 11 others. Five other people died the same day in Baghdad and Kirkuk. 

The day before saw even more killings—at least 40 across the entire nation, with attacks concentrated in the cities of Babil, Basra, Fallujah, Karbala, Kut, Mosul, and Nasiriyah. When the provincial governor of Wasit, Mahdi al-Zubaidi, promptly visited the site of the Kut killings later in the day, enraged citizens pelted him with stones and shoes in protest.

At least 40 people were also killed last Thursday, at the very beginning of Ramadan, including 14 policemen across northern and western Iraq.

The attacks have been mixed in technique, between shootings and bombings, fairly typical of the insurgents who have been working to undermine the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as the American military presence. This Ramadan, levels of violence are projected to be the highest in the country since 2007, when 934 total people were killed during Ramadan.

Addressing the attacks is made more difficult by the fact that the insurgents are heterogeneous, possessing different aims, motives, methods, and means. Moreover, no specific group has taken responsibility for any one, or several, of the attacks.

Many of the attacks were performed in Shi’a areas, ostensibly to lash out against the Shi’a domination of the government, which was instituted when Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party, largely populated by Iraq’s Sunni minority, was ousted in April 2003. However, at least one of the attacks, on Sunday night in Baghdad, was on a Sunni neighborhood, suggesting that multiple separate groups may be responsible for the incidents—or that Sunni groups are attempting to stir up increased resentment towards the Shi’a government, which has been strengthening its ties with another Shi’a-dominated nation, Iran, for the past few years.

Although the Ramadan attacks are part of a larger spike of insurgent attacks that have plagued Iraq for the past few months, the timing of the attacks during a holy month have given them a deeper impact for Iraqi citizens than they would at an ordinary time. Jafar Ali, whose leg was wounded in the bombings in Karbala on Sunday, wondered aloud, “Is this how Muslims exchange the peace of the holy month of Ramadan?”

But unfortunately, despite its sacred nature, Ramadan has not been immune to spikes in attacks in the past. John Drake, a specialist on Iraq for AKE Ltd. security consulting firm, notes that “Ramadan used to be a bad month (for violence), but then over recent years it became a relatively quiet month,” going on to add, “it already looks like this trend is being reversed.”

By Laura Gates

Source: The New York Times, Associated Press, Time

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