First Published: 2013-04-27

 

Tensions high as Iraq edges closer to new sectarian war

 

Gunmen kill five army intelligence soldiers in two attacks west of Baghdad while others shoot dead five anti-Qaeda militiamen north of Iraqi capital.

 

Middle East Online

In a time of political bankruptcy

BAGHADAD - Gunmen killed five army intelligence soldiers in two attacks west of Baghdad while others shot dead five anti-Qaeda militiamen north of the Iraqi capital on Saturday, police and doctors said.

One group of soldiers were driving near the site of a long-running anti-government protest when they were stopped by gunmen. They shot one of the gunmen, wounding him, and clashes broke out in which four of the soldiers were killed and another wounded, a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.

Gunmen also killed one soldier and wounded another in a similar incident involving a second vehicle in the same area, the same sources said.

And gunmen killed five Sahwa anti-Qaeda militiamen in an attack, on a checkpoint south of Tikrit, which lies north of the Iraqi capital, a second police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.

Sectarian strife has returned to Iraq from elsewhere in the region, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, a likely reference to neighbouring war-torn Syria.

A civil war pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has killed more than 70,000 people.

Sectarian strife "came back to Iraq because it began in another place in this region," Maliki said in televised remarks, an allusion to Sunni-Shiite violence that peaked in 2006 and 2006 and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

On Thursday, Maliki warned of the danger that Iraq was slipping into "sectarian civil war," and his latest remarks expanded on that.

"Sectarianism is evil, and the wind of sectarianism does not need a licence to cross from a country to another, because if it begins in a place, it will move to another place," he said on Saturday.

"Strife is knocking on the doors of everyone, and no one will survive if it enters, because there is a wind behind it, and money, and plans."

The United Nations warned on Friday that Iraq is at a "crossroads" and appealed for restraint, as four days of violence, including several attacks at mosques, killed more than 200 people.

"I call on the conscience of all religious and political leaders not to let anger win over peace, and to use their wisdom, because the country is at a crossroads," UN envoy Martin Kobler said in a statement.

Clerics Abdulghafur al-Samarraie and Saleh al-Haidari, who respectively head the Sunni and Shiite religious endowments, have also warned against sectarian strife.

Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in Iraq, including bombings and death squad murders that peaked in 2006 and 2007, claimed tens of thousands of lives.

On Friday, bombs exploded at three Sunni mosques in Baghdad and a fourth north of the capital, killing at least four people and wounding 50, an official and medics said.

More than a dozen people were killed in attacks at Sunni mosques on Tuesday.

And a motorcycle bomb in the Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City killed at least five people and wounded 21, while a roadside bomb in Dura in the capital's south wounded at least four, officials said.

With tensions high, a Sunni cleric at the site of a long-running anti-government protest near Ramadi, west of Baghdad, called in a Friday sermon for the creation of an army to defend Sunnis.

Sheikh Hamed al-Kubaisi urged each Sunni tribe to provide 100 people.

A journalist saw between 60 and 70 men who had responded to Kubaisi's call near the site of the protest, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"I joined... to defend Sunnis," said 24-year-old Omar al-Hadithi, one of the men. "I am not afraid of arrest. I am ready to fight anywhere."

Meanwhile, security forces moved back into the northern town of Sulaiman Bek after gunmen who seized it withdrew, according to local official Shalal Abdul Baban.

The gunmen pulled out of the predominantly Turkmen Sunni town in Salaheddin province under a deal worked out by tribal leaders and government officials, Baban and municipal council deputy chief Ahmed Aziz said.

But they were able to make off with 30 machineguns and dozens of vehicles and have set up checkpoints only five kilometres (three miles) from the town, Baban said.

He also said helicopter fire wounded six people on the roof of a house in the town early on Friday.

The gunmen had swarmed into Sulaiman Bek on Wednesday after deadly clashes with security force, who pulled back as residents fled.

Army Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed said on Thursday that the gunmen in Sulaiman Bek, who he said numbered about 175, had been given 48 hours to withdraw or face attack.

The seizure of the town came amid a surge of violence which began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, sparking clashes that left 53 people dead.

Dozens more were killed in subsequent unrest, much but not all of it apparently linked to Tuesday's clashes, bringing the death toll to more than 200 by Friday.

The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke out in Sunni areas of the Shiite-majority country more than four months ago.

The Sunni protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community, including with what they say are wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.

In other violence, seven gunmen died in attacks on security forces south of the northern city of Kirkuk on Friday, a high-ranking army officer and a medical source said.

And gunmen killed a Sahwa anti-Qaeda militiaman south of Kirkuk, while seven Katyusha rockets wounded two civilians in the city, police and a medical source said.

 

Syrian migrant blows self up near German music festival

Arab summit in Mauritania cut to single day

12 killed in suicide bomb attack north of Baghdad

Turkey cracks down on journalists after coup

Iran destroys 100,000 ‘morally damaging’ satellite dishes

ISIS claims second German attack in a week

France calls for immediate humanitarian truce in Aleppo

Dozens dead in 5 days of Yemen fighting

Israel advances plans for 770 settlement homes

Libya conflict keeps 279,000 children out of school

After week of attacks, Germany warns of backlash against refugees

Iraqi charged with having 'trace' explosives in Poland

UN Syria envoy, US, Russian officials to hold talks Tuesday

Kuwait top court acquits IOC powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad

Air strikes, rebel fire kill 19 in Aleppo

Egypt policeman killed in Sinai attack claimed by IS

ISIS suicide bomber kills at least 15 in northern Baghdad

Turkey readies first cross-party rally to condemn coup

Libya loyalists seize ISIS bomb factory in Sirte

Tunisia dissident, Mohsen Marzouk, opens new party congress

Air raids jeopardise much-needed medical care in Aleppo

Saudi delegation in Israel to promote stalled peace initiative

At least 61 people dead as ISIS claims twin blasts in Kabul

Iraq PM seeks to speed up death penalty implementation

Munich shooting had 'obvious link' to Breivik, not ISIS

EgyptAir flight broke up in midair after fire, evidence suggests

Palestinian village could soon cease to exist

Coalition warplanes strike Qaeda positions in southern Yemen

Turkey extends police powers, shutters over 1,000 private schools

Libya ‘NATO revolutionaries’ urge fight against French troops

Germany probes motives of 'lone' Munich mass killer

Russian warplanes targeted US, British outpost in Syria

Bodies of 14 'executed' people found in Libya's Benghazi

UN to help Turkey bolster tourism sector

France to supply weapons to Iraqi army

Turkey tensions fester in Germany

Israel official on first visit to Chad in 40 years

EU condemns 'unacceptable' Turkey purges

Iran stops 'terrorist infiltration' from Turkey

Moscow restarts air travel to Turkey

Assad says Erdogan is 'implementing his own extremist agenda'

Egypt's Sisi says 'serious efforts' made in Palestine peace process

43 civilians dead as regime bombards rebel-held areas in Syria

UN pleads for weekly 48-hour truce in Syria's Aleppo

Kuwait upholds death for Iran spy cell 'mastermind'