Iraq set to ask Obama for help
Violence is at its highest since 2008
BAGHDAD: Violence in Iraq is at its worst level since 2008, figures showed yesterday, as Premier Nouri al-Maliki was to appeal for Barack Obama’s help to combat a spike in militancy.
The new figures capture a months-long surge in unrest despite wide- ranging operations targeting insurgents and a major tightening of security, with no sign of respite ahead of elections due within months.
Two years after US forces withdrew from Iraq, Maliki is to call for more military equipment and greater security cooperation in talks with Obama, after likening the fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants to a third world war.
Figures released by the ministries of health, interior and defence showed that violence last month killed 964 people – 855 civilians, 65 policemen and 44 soldiers – and wounded 1 600.
The UN put the figure even higher – 979 killed and 1 902 wounded.
“Indiscriminate violence is constant,” UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov said. “It is urgent that Iraqi leaders take together the necessary bold steps to bring an end to the current mayhem, and to foil attempts by terrorists to destroy the social fabric of the Iraqi society.”
The overall government death toll is the highest since April 2008, when 1 073 died.
At that time, Iraq was slowly emerging from a brutal sectarian war that claimed tens of thousands of lives and only slowed when the US sent in a surge of troops and partnered with former Sunni insurgents against al-Qaeda’s local affiliate. But nearly two years after the US military withdrew from Iraq and a civil war erupted in neighbouring Syria, Iraq appears on the verge of another round of sectarian bloodletting. Violence continued to roil the country yesterday, with four people killed in the north. Figures show a decline in violence last month, but still put the death toll at one of the highest levels of the year.
Overall, at least 743 people were killed in attacks last month, more than in January, February and March combined.
Militants targeted everything from public parks and restaurants, to funerals and government buildings last month, killing security forces, civilians and civil servants, with dozens of suicide bombings and car bombs ripping through towns and cities.
On many days there were waves of violence nationwide, with a spate of attacks on October 5 killing 73 people, while 77 others died on October 17. On both days, the deadliest attacks were in Baghdad.
Much of the violence has been attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda front group opposed to Iraq’s Shia-led government that has carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria.
Diplomats and analysts have called for Maliki’s government to seek a long- term accommodation with the country’s disaffected Sunni Arab minority, to drain support for militancy. But officials have thus far concentrated on security operations that they insist are yielding results.
Maliki has meanwhile sought to drum up US support, calling in a speech on Thursday for an “international war against terrorism”.
Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace, the Iraqi leader called al-Qaeda “a virus” that was trying to spread “a dirty wind” around the region.
“If we have had two world wars, we want a third world war against those who are killing people, killing populations, who are calling for bloodshed, for ignorance, and do not want logic to govern our lives.”
Ahead of Maliki’s talks with Obama, the US vowed to help Iraq combat terror groups, but said Baghdad needed a broader strategy that was not just based on strengthening its military arsenal.
Meanwhile, top US commander in the Middle East General Lloyd Austin, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, gave voice to increasing concern in Washington that al-Qaeda will manage to hunker down in a safe haven stretching from western Iraq into Syria. – Sapa-AFP
GRIM: Baghdad municipality workers clear debris while citizens inspect the site of a car bomb attack in the Sha'ab neighbourhood of the city last month.