Another Day In Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn
in Khanaquin, Diyala Province, Iraq
17 July, 2007
United States surge, the use of the American troop reinforcements to
bring violence in Iraq under control, is bloodily failing across northern
Iraq. That was proved again yesterday when a suicide bomber detonated
a truck packed with explosives in Kirkuk killing at least 85 people
and wounding a further 183.
The truck bomb blasted a
30ft-deep crater in a busy road full of small shops and booths near
the ancient citadel of Kirkuk, setting fire to a bus in which the passengers
burned to death and burying many others under the rubble. Dozens of
cars were set ablaze and their blackened hulks littered the street.
Some 25 of the wounded suffered critical injuries and may not live.
In Baghdad, at least 44 people
were killed or found dead across the city, police said. They included
the bullet-riddled bodies of 25 people, apparent victims of sectarian
The attack is the latest
assault by Sunni insurgents on Kurds who claim Kirkuk as their future
Adnan Sarhan, 30, lost both
his eyes and had his back broken in the blast. He lay on the operating
table as his anguished mother, Mahiya Qadir, sat nearby with her daughter-in-law.
"Will I ever see my son alive again?" she asked.
Two more car bombs blew up
later in Kirkuk but caused few casualties.
The dispatch of 28,000 extra
troops to Iraq starting in January, and the more aggressive deployment
of the US army in the country, is not working. At best it is moving
violence from one area of Iraq to another. The US is allying itself
to local tribes and militias against guerrillas but that is angering
the government in Baghdad and deepening the violence.
In Diyala, a mixed Shia-Sunni-Kurdish
province south of Kirkuk and north-east of Baghdad, the US launched
an offensive against al-Qa'ida and Sunni insurgent forces three weeks
ago. It claimed to have killed many guerrillas and forced others to
Hamdi Hassan Zubaydi, the
Sunni leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Diyala, painted a very different
picture. He described how some of the Sunni tribesmen had joined US
troops to storm al-Qa'ida-held villages and had killed 100 insurgents.
But when the US withdrew, al-Qa'ida returned and drove the tribesmen
Mr Zubaydi, who was jailed
by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, quivered with disgust as he explained
the bloody complexities of sectarian war in Diyala.
The tough-looking former
teacher in his fifties said 20 Sunni students on a bus had been abducted
and he feared they would be killed. He said he knew who had carried
out the kidnapping: "It was the emergency police forces led by
Captain Abbas Waisi and Lt Zaman Abdul Hamid. I told the American special
forces but they have done nothing."
We met Mr Zubaydi in the
office of the Mayor of Khanaqin, a Kurdish enclave in northern Diyala,
where he had come to ask for help. We had reached there through Kurdish-controlled
territory along the right bank of the Diyala river that runs parallel
to the Iranian border. Kurdish control ends at a dishevelled town called
Khalar where we crossed the river over a long, rickety metal bridge
with old tyres marking places where metal slats had fallen into the
waters below. We picked up armed guards and then circled round behind
Khanaqin to enter from the east.
Mr Zubaydi had a shorter
but more dangerous route to Khanaqin from a town called Muqdadiyah,
a few miles to the west of Khaniaqin, which he accurately described
as "the most dangerous place in Iraq". His house had been
attacked five times in the past month.
He was beset by the Sunni
insurgents of al-Qa'ida on one side and the Shia militia of the Mehdi
Army on the other. He gave an impressive list of the Iraqi security
forces available in Muqdadiyah, in addition to a US battalion, including
1,200 police and 1,600 army.
The problem is that nobody
is quite sure on which side the Iraqi security forces are planning to
fight. Often they do nothing: "The house of the deputy police chief
is just 10 metres from a police station but somebody blew it up,"
Mr Zubaydi said scornfully. He ran through a list of police and army
commanders in Diyala, all of whom were Shia and unlikely to help the
There are at least three
different wars being fought in northern Iraq: Sunni against Americans;
Shia against Sunni; Arabs against Kurds. Alliances can switch. The Kurds
are the Americans' only sincere ally in Iraq but many of them are also
convinced that the Americans in Kirkuk city have a tacit understanding
with the Arab insurgents not to attack each other.
The US does not want to be
seen as siding with the Kurds in their struggle to join Kirkuk and its
oil fields to their semi-independent enclave, the Kurdistan Regional
Government (KRG), in a referendum due at the end of the year. The US
is restraining the Kurds but this may be more difficult after yesterday's
bombings. "If we wanted to do so, we [Kurds] could secure as far
as Khalis," a town far to the south of Kirkuk in Diyala Fuad Hussein,
the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani president of the KRG, told me.
The US is caught in quagmire
of its own making. Such successes as it does have are usually the result
of tenuous alliances with previously hostile tribes, insurgent groups
or militias. The British experience in Basra was that these marriages
of convenience with local gangs weakened the central government and
contributed to anarchy in Iraq. They did not work in the long term.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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