Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Iraq : The 2nd Biggest Terror Attack In History Fades Quickly From Headlines

Bush Blames Maliki For US Troubles In Iraq

Maliki Fires Back : We Have Friends Elsewhere

"It is like Hiroshima" - the horrific aftermath of the bombings that killed more than 500 Yazidi Kurds in northern Iraq, making it the 2nd worst terror attack in modern history, after 9/11.

We'll come back to President Bush's mind-bogglingly stupid speech about why pulling out of Iraq would be like pulling out of Vietnam later, but for now here's a number of important Iraq-War related stories, to fill out the picture of what's been happening there since our last round-up.

A few weeks out from the release of a Pentagon assessment report on the results of President Bush's troop "surge" strategy, and Bush and his usual coterie of NeoCons, are already blaming the Maliki government for the all but unstoppable rise in attacks on Iraqis, car bombings and US casualties, and are hinting that Maliki's days in power might be at an end :
"Clearly, the Iraqi government's got to do more," President Bush said...

"I think there's a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general, inability to work _ come together to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections..."

"The fundamental question is, Will the government respond to the demands of the people? And, if the government doesn't demand _ or respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."

Prime Minister Maliki, who has recently negotiated oil and trade deals with Iran and Syria, has slammed the Bush administration, and warned, not too subtly, that Iraqi government no longer needs the United States to achieve its aims :
Firing back in an escalating war of words, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki on Wednesday chided U.S. officials for expressing impatience with the Iraqi government's failure to unite divided political factions and said Iraq would find other friends if the United States was disenchanted.

"These statements do not concern us a lot," Maliki said to reporters while he was visiting Syria. "We will find many around the world who will support us in our endeavor."

Maliki's comments came one day after U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker called the government's failure to tackle legislation intended to ease Sunni and Shiite Muslim tensions "extremely disappointing" and two days after the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee called for the Iraqi parliament to replace Maliki.

President Bush added to the criticism on Tuesday, remarking during a trip to Canada that there is "a certain level of frustration" with Iraq's leaders.

Maliki suggested that U.S. officials were questioning his performance because he was visiting Syria, which the Bush administration has accused of allowing foreign fighters into Iraq.

"The Iraqi government was elected by the Iraqi people," he added.

Maliki's talk of finding cooperation elsewhere is most evident in the growing security and business ties between Iraq and Syria. Maliki hailed Syria's pledge to help stabilise Iraq on his recent visit to Damascus :

Mr Maliki said bilateral diplomatic and economic ties were growing, adding that the two neighbours were working together to stabilise Iraq. Mr Maliki was speaking after talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Relations between Syria and Iraq were only restored last year after a period of almost 25 years.

Countering claims by a host of American NeoCons and Republicans that violence has dropped in Baghdad as a result of the troop "surge" - US officials claim they now control 50% of Baghdad's suburbs - solid investigative reporting from McClatchy correspondents prove the claims of significant reductions in the deaths of Iraqis and American troops is yet more spin.

The US Military continues to unfold its new strategy of recruiting Sunni insurgents as a counter to Al Qaeda, but perhaps more importantly, Shia militia and death squads. The US is accused of dealing from the bottom of the deck with this strategy. While it appears to be yielding positive results, Maliki and his Shia-dominated government are viewing the US alliance with Sunni insurgents, who have launched thousands of attacks on US soldiers and the government, as a betrayal :
Under a tree by a battlefield road in Iraq's "Triangle of Death," Lieutenant- Colonel Robert Balcavage meets his new recruits.

The men are Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are about to join the U.S. military's payroll as a local militia. They want guns.

"I am not giving out guns and ammo," the U.S. commander says. The men listen carefully as the interpreter translates.

"I've been shot at up here enough times to know that there's plenty of guns and ammo. Me personally. Some of you guys have probably taken some pretty good shots at me."

Slowly but deliberately, U.S. forces are enlisting groups of armed men -- many probably former insurgents -- and paying cash, a strategy they say has dramatically reduced violence in some of Iraq's most dangerous areas in just weeks.

It is a rare piece of good news in four years of war, and successes like this are likely to play a prominent part when U.S. commander General David Petraeus makes an eagerly anticipated report to congress in mid-September.

"People say: 'But you're paying the enemy'. I say: 'You got a better idea?'," says Balcavage. "It's a lot easier to recruit them than to detain or kill them."

The multiple car and truck bombings of Yazidi villages in northern Iraq has killed more than 500 people. More than 600 were said to be wounded. Entire villages, literally hundreds of homes, were wiped from the face of the earth, in co-ordinated attacks that looked like the work of a small tactical nuke.

With more than 500 dead, the attacks on the Yazidi now rank as the worst bombings of the entire Iraq War and, perhaps more spectacularly, the largest and most deadly terror attacks since 9/11, and the second highest terror death in modern history.

As Westerners attention is drawn back to the latest celebrity trash, by an easily distracted media, the Yazidi are dealing with the horrific aftermath of the attacks, and trying to work out they will now stay alive :

Nearly one week after four bombs blew apart this village and a neighboring one, Sheikh Khadar, the dead are still being recovered, adding to the toll that already had made last Tuesday’s bombings the deadliest terrorist attack since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

At least 354 people are confirmed dead and 80 more are known to be missing. The toll of the wounded stands at 600. Half of those are in serious condition, and many aren't expected to survive. On Sunday, 10 more bodies were discovered in the rubble of what used to be Tal al Azizziyah’s core. A bulldozer beeped constantly as it pushed through the rubble. American Humvees, absent until last week’s explosions, rolled along the dirt roads.

For most of the survivors, there’s no doubt why their villages were targeted.

“The problem is we are Yazidis,” said one man as he stood among the remains of what had been at least 150 clay houses, now reduced to nothing more than broken shards. “We go to Mosul and Tal Afar, the Arabs and Turkmen try to kill us. …We didn’t stand against anyone. What is our fault?”

The Yazidis are another minority in an Iraq filled with religious and ethnic divides, any one of which can burst into violent warfare, as last week’s bombings made clear. The Yazidis, who trace their religious roots to ancient Persia, aren’t Muslim and have for years been viewed disdainfully by Christians and Muslims as devil worshippers for the homage they pay to Malak Taus, the most revered of seven angels who Yazidis believe were God’s first creations.

The low-slung clay homes have no running water or electricity. Little boys play with makeshift toys fashioned from tin cans and other leftover items.

Villagers remain in shock at the extent of the damage. One of the craters is 15 feet deep and has been hastily filled with rubble — little flip-flops, shreds of children's clothes and men’s headdresses sprinkled amid broken clay blocks, dirt and twisted metal.

Everyone lost a cousin, a neighbor, a father, a brother or a child. The lists were endless.

The Kurdish Regional Government doled out 500 tents, 1,500 mattresses, 3,000 blankets, 500 kitchen sets, 1,000 bed sheets and 450 water tanks. For every family with a fatality the central government had promised 2 million Iraqi dinars, about $1,616.

The mayor of Tal al Azizziyah, Khodr Khodail Rasheed, was at home when the bombs exploded. He ran outside and was met with devastation. Hundreds of dead lay in the streets. Homes had collapsed on them, and a deep crater scarred the landscape. He shook his head when asked if the town could recover.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just like Hiroshima. We’ve never seen anything like this. It needs time, a long time.”

Everyone expects the attacks to continue to rid Iraq of Yazidi Kurds.

Yazidi have voted to take revenge for the mass slaughter of their people :

Emergency workers continued to drag body parts from the site’s dusty rubble. Among the wounded, one in five suffered serious wounds, and hospital officials reported that hundreds of families had taken their broken loved ones home, despite the threat of infection.

In the area of last week’s attack, the desert villages dominated by Yazidis — a Kurdish-speaking sect whose faith combines Islamic teachings with other ancient religions — struggled to cope. Residents and officials say a constant flow of burials has filled the streets amid the stench of death arising from mounds of beige brick.

Duraid Kashmula, the governor of Mosul, said several regiments of Iraqi soldiers had been deployed to protect the area. Sand barriers have been built around three villages in greater Qahtaniya “to secure the area and prevent any strangers from entering,” he said.

He added that the explosions leveled more than 1,000 houses, most of them made of mud and stone, while another 500 were damaged.

Iraqi officials said no suspects had been arrested. Sunni extremists, who have been warring with Kurds in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, are believed to be responsible for the attack.

Yazidis may have been targets because of their proximity to Syria’s porous border; for their beliefs (they worship an angel whose name is sometimes translated as Satan in the Koran); or as retribution for an episode in April, when some Yazidis stoned a young Yazidi woman to death for marrying a Sunni.

Yazidis from across the north, where the sect is most concentrated, said they feared that their community of several hundred thousand might not recover.

“I’ve lost 32 people from the families of my five brothers and four sisters,” said Rasheed Muhsin Khesru, 59, a Yazidi from Kirkuk.

Others said the attack would only accelerate Iraq’s already dizzying level of violence.

“In a few days, 10,000 of our men will be ready to protect our areas,” said Kheder Aziz, who was sobbing on a street in Kirkuk. “All the Sunni Arab tribes living around us are responsible, either because they helped with the attack or knew what would happen.”

The Western world's media, meanwhile, has already lost interest in the story. There was no spectacular footage of the attacks that can be played over and over and over again. The victims were mostly Kurds, non-white, and believers in a religion that many Christians would deem strange, and possibly Satanic.

Plus, this is Iraq. And Iraq is the world centre for terror attacks now.

Another 500 dead Iraqis barely even cracks the headlines.

The next time most Westerners are likely to hear about the Yazidi is if they strike back at the Sunni Arabs in a large and spectacularly violent way. Another wave of beheadings and body dumpings, likewise, are unlikely to even make the news in the US and Australia.

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