x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

String of blasts kills dozens in Iraq

At least 42 people are dead and more than 100 injured in an escalations of violence seemingly intended to reignite sectarian warfare.

BAGHDAD // Bombs tore apart a small village in northern Iraq yesterday and a series of blasts hit Baghdad, in a wave of early morning violence apparently designed to reignite a sectarian civil war. At dawn, two lorries laden with explosives blew up almost simultaneously in Khazna, a village 20km east of Mosul, home to members of the minority Shabak community, a mainly Shiite ethnic group. The bombs had been placed in a residential area and demolished 40 houses as people slept. At least 25 were killed, according to the provincial authorities, with another 138 wounded. All were civilians.

Iraq's capital suffered eight explosions during the day. The first - a bomb left in a pile of rubbish near a construction site - killed at least seven people and wounded 46 in the Amil neighbourhood, a religiously mixed part of the city. Shortly after 6am - less than 15 minutes later - a car bomb targeting construction workers at a different site in western Baghdad exploded, killing 10 and wounding 35

Three bombs subsequently went off in the mainly Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiya, wounding a paramilitary fighter. It was still not much past 7am. Within half an hour another bomb exploded in the Karradah neighbourhood, wounding at least four people. Before noon another two bombs had gone off in south-western and eastern Baghdad, wounding at least six people. The largest number of casualties resulted from the attack on Khazna, not far from Mosul, the capital of Ninewah province. Mosul remains highly dangerous, with various factions competing for control of the city. Iraqi government forces and US troops continue to fight al Qa'eda-style Sunni extremists, while Kurds and Arabs also vie for dominance in a dispute that is hovering close to all-out war between Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish administrative capital.

Minorities, including the Shabak and Christians, say they are increasingly caught in the middle. "The argument between the Kurds and the Hadba party [Arab nationalists] over Mosul has created a power vacuum and is encouraging al Qa'eda to attack the Shabak," said Hanin Qadu, a Shabak member of Iraq's national parliament. "The problems seem to be getting worse, and I can't see things getting better for the next decade.

"We can only hope that the Kurds and Arabs are able to resolve their problems and come to some kind of peace. That is the only solution to this." No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Khazna, but it is widely thought to have been the work of Sunni extremists. A member of the Army of Naqishbandi, a Sunni insurgent group operating in Ninewah, recently told The National that the Shabak were in league with Iran and therefore traitors. Hard-line Sunni extremists consider the Shabak to be unbelievers.

"A lot of Shabak have been forced out of Mosul by Sunni radicals and the situation is still extremely dangerous for them," said an Iraqi adviser to the US military in Ninewah who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Any bombing like this was probably done by Sunnis, although it is difficult to know who is behind any of these attacks." Abu Kamal, a Shabak and former resident of Mosul, once worked as a police officer in the city, until he was threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qa'eda-style group trying to establish a fundamentalist Islamic order in the country.

"For a while they [the Islamic State of Iraq] would let us stay in our jobs as long as we gave them information and didn't try to make any trouble for them," he said in a telephone interview. "After that they decided that no Shabak should work for the police, and they came and told us all to leave. Most of us did, I think all of us did. "Al Qa'eda and other Sunni extremists want to take Ninewah for themselves. They are trying to force out the minorities like the Christians and the Shabak. We are in real danger."

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, condemned the attacks in a televised press conference, but repeated a warning that violence was likely to escalate ahead of national elections, due to take place in January. "The coming election will witness increasing attempts to damage and violate security," he said. "They will try, in any way they can, to show that the political process is not stable."

Iraqi government forces have been deployed in large numbers in Mosul, and US troops remain in the city although they have largely stopped combat patrols. Their main base, Marez, has been hit by rockets since their pullback from urban areas earlier this summer. Some American officers are lobbying for their forces to be put back on regular combat patrols in the city, arguing that the Iraqi military is not up to the task. The Iraqi army, which has many troops drawn from the Shiite south, is resisting the idea, as does Atheel al Najafi, the Sunni Arab governor of Mosul and leading member of the anti-Kurdish al Hadba party.

Since the last elections in Iraq, January's provincial ballots, there has been increasing signs of political reconciliation between Iraq's various religious and ethnic communities, although the split between Arabs and Kurds, focused around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, has deepened. Sectarian attacks have continued, despite political negotiations and a general reduction in violence since the bloody days of 2006 and 2007. On Friday, a suicide lorry bomber destroyed a mosque used by Shiite Turkomen, north of Mosul, killing 44 people. Once quiet areas of southern Iraq, mainly Shiite, have also been hit by bombings.

Last month, 275 people were officially recorded as dying violently nationwide. In Mosul, an Iraqi contractor working on US funded projects said by telephone that Islamic militants remained powerful in the city and that he still had to pay protection money to the Islamic State of Iraq. "I give them 10 per cent of the total contract price, and in exchange for that they don't attack me or my workers," he said. "I have no real choice about it. It's that or we get killed."

A Sunni who previously lived in Baghdad, the contractor now lives in a Sunni neighbourhood of Mosul. "The security situation is very bad," he said. "The area is controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq. If I pay off their emir [leader] I should be safe but no one is really safe. Everyone is scared." American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by 2012 under a bilateral security pact between Washington and Baghdad.

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