Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sectarian clashes in Baghdad

A massive wave of sectarian violence engulfed several districts of Baghdad yesterday. The violence was sparked by news reports of sniper attacks against Shi’ite pilgrims heading to the shrine of Imam Musa Al-Kadhim in Kadhimiya to commemorate his death anniversary. When the news had spread, armed members of ‘popular committees’ (militias) accompanying the pilgrims opened fire against residences in some Sunni districts surrounding Kadhimiya. Others took over Sunni mosques in Sulaikh, Dola’I, and Palestine Street, and reprisals were reported from several areas of Baghdad.

For some reason, Western news agencies have completely missed these serious developments, highly reminiscient of the confessional violence that followed the Samarra shrine attack, but both the Iraqi Al-Sharqiya and Baghdad satellite channels aired video footage of the clashes. The events were corroborated by dozens of eyewitness accounts.

In the Dola’I neighbourhood, just south of Kadhimiya, gunmen occupied the Du’at Al-Islam mosque and kidnapped the Imam, Sheikh Hassan Ali Yassin, and two guards who were in the mosque. Their battered corpses were found later.

Fierce clashes were reported at Sarrafiya, which is where most pilgrims arriving from Sadr City and eastern districts of Baghdad cross the Tigris to Kadhimiya. Al-Sharqiya TV reported that gunmen in official Iraqi security vehicles stormed into residences at the nearby Waziriya district. The Islamic Party claimed that three Sunni families, including women and children, near the Talei'a theatre, were all slaughtered by the attackers, until American troops arrived at the scene and forced the militiamen to flee.

Gunmen also attacked the Al-Janabi and Al-Quds mosque at Palestine Street, and parliament members, of the Accord front, complained that several districts and suburbs of Baghdad were attacked. A camp for displaced Sunni families at Hayy Al-Ma’alif in southern Baghdad was also attacked.

Fighting was also reported at Bub Al-Sham, Binouk, Hurriya, Dora, Hayy Al-Mechanic, Shurta Al-Khamisa, Fadhl, Wathba Square, Jisr Diyala and Madain.

The heaviest fighting took place at Sulaikh, which also lies near a main route for Shi’ite pilgrims commuting to Kadhimiya from the Sha’ab district and from suburbs north of Baghdad. Residents and eyewitnesses said the attackers came in vehicles, in open violation of the vehicle ban, at 8 am and started firing against civilians and the Al-Sada Al-Ni'aim and the Shaheed Sabri mosques. Mortar rounds from the nearby Sha'ab district also targeted the neighbourhood.

In fact most of yesterday’s violence occurred around the main routes of pilgrims to Kadhimiya, as you can see here

Militiamen were openly touting weapons in Baghdad yesterday, under the noses of Iraqi security forces that were deployed to enforce the ban on vehicles. The subtle line between Iraqi security forces and, supposedly, outlawed militias is increasingly being blurred.