While wreckage from one of Iraq’s deadliest days was being cleared, security staff stated the operation to protect pilgrims was successful. Politicians were also happy to reach out to pilgrims. This week, ordinary Iraqis cannot help but look back and see the irony.
The past week has been a deadly one for Iraqis. A wave of coordinated attacks around the country targeted Shiite Muslim pilgrims and others observing a week of holy days. The results, according to Iraqi Body Count, an organization that analyses reports of deadly incidents in Iraq from around the world and from Iraq, saw 92 killed on the deadliest day, Wednesday June 16, and a further 121 killed over the following week. Many hundreds more were wounded with around 300 injured on Wednesday.
This was one of the deadliest weeks in Iraq following the withdrawal of US troops late last year and Iraqi Body Count estimates that 315 civilians had been killed up in Iraq up until June 19.
Responsibility for the “bloody Wednesday” attacks was claimed by the extremist Sunni Muslim organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which said, in a Saturday statement, that the attacks were in “in response to government attempts to confiscate the lands and mosques of the Sunnis”. By this, the extremists were referring to the proposed transfer of ownership of mosques from out of Sunni Muslim hands into Shiite Muslim hands. This is even though the proposed transfers are seen as so controversial by both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, that the proposition, which has to do with an ambiguous 2005 law, has not been fully acted upon.
Millions of pilgrims were expected in Baghdad – the pilgrims made their way to various shrines in high temperatures, reaching 50 degrees during both day and night. And the terrorist incidents included a parked car exploding in the Kadhimiya area of Baghdad, near an important shrine and a popular transport point for pilgrims.
And strangely, while the debris from the blast in Kadhimiya was still being cleared and bodies removed, a military spokesman was announcing the success of the security measures, specially taken for the pilgrims.
“The [success of the] security plan cannot be judged by one or two breaches, or by the number of people who were killed or injured,” Diya al-Wakeel, of the Baghdad Operations Command, the body responsible for maintaining security in the capital city and its surroundings, insisted. “If we take into account the huge challenges we faced, and the number of actual victims, then we can see that the security plan did achieve what it set out to do.”
Al-Wakeel’s statement were immediately criticised by politicians and local security experts. They said that the plan, which had mobilised over 30,000 security personnel and had involved streets being blocked as well as partial bans on vehicles, had been a failure.
MP Mathhar al-Janabi, a member of the Parliamentary committee on security and defence, told NIQASH he was shocked at the victorious language al-Wakeel used and that he thought al-Wakeel’s statements were reprehensible – “as if the people who died were not important” - and that they were “just lies”.
Even the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office didn’t seem to agree with al-Wakeel. A source at the Karkh operations centre – most of the attacks happened in this part of Baghdad – said that a number of high ranking officers there were reprimanded.
“Al-Maliki usually praises the performance of the security forces in protecting the pilgrims - but this year he didn’t,” the source noted. “This is an indication that he was not satisfied with their performance.”
“You really can’t say that the security plan worked,” Thaer al-Sudani, a security consultant and a former member of the military, said. “Hundreds of people were killed and wounded yet the authorities seem so proud – it seems as though the safety of ordinary people is not a priority.”
Meanwhile Shiite Muslim politicians were also happy to use the holy days as a way of reaching out to their potential voters, with many completing the pilgrimage and undertaking the various rituals themselves.
Roads leading to shrines were covered with posters and placards, complete with religious slogans and political messages, made by Shiite Muslim political parties and many of the parties provided caravans, offering pilgrims water, food, medicine and other services en route. A number of parties used their offices for similar purposes.
Regardless of their efforts to make friends and influence people though, the politicians didn’t do enough to protect the people they say they want to serve. Well protected political figures returned to their homes, safe and sound. But over 200 ordinary Iraqis will never be able to do so.