Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Tears and candles

Outgoing UN special representative for Iraq Martin Kobler has condemned the violence that is killing hundreds of people in the country, writes Nermine Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Al-Ahram Weekly

“These criminal acts targeting Muslims praying in mosques or gathering after breaking their fast are senseless. The holy month of Ramadan should be a time for spirituality and forgiveness, instead of increasing violence and division,” Martin Kobler, the UN special representative for Iraq, said in a last message to the Iraqi people before he stepped down from the role.

“I am deeply saddened that my last words as special representative for Iraq have to be linked to violence and criminal acts. I call on all Iraqis not to let violence prevail and to work together toward peace and dialogue, the only sustainable solution,” Kobler added.

By the second week of the holy month Ramadan, the death toll of those killed in acts of violence in Iraq over the last four months had risen to nearly 3,000, among them dozens of women and children, and over 7,000 wounded.

As a result of the ongoing violence, observers think that the country’s political leaders have no choice but to take critical decisions, even if these are against their own political interests, to save Iraq from sinking into full-scale civil conflict.

At the beginning of the holy month, Iraqi young men became the main target of the violence. A suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of dozens of young men who were gathering to play mihibis (the ring), a special Ramadan game in Iraq.

The event happened after Iftar on 12 July when an explosion shook the Haziran neighbourhood of Kirkuk in northern Iraq as the teams were playing in a public teahouse. Some 39 were killed and about 50 wounded, later rising to 50 killed as a result of the deaths of those who had been badly wounded.

Since the bombing, every day after Iftar tens of candles have been lit in front of the teahouse to remember those who were killed, while black banners mourning the victims are still on the walls.

Looking at the victims’ names, it is clear that they were a mix of Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs. The attack took place even as the country’s political parties were discussing the passage of a special elections law for Kirkuk, young people from the area’s three main ethnic groups being killed in the same attack.

Zeinab Nassir, whose son Mohamed Talib, 24, was killed in the attack, said he had gone out to buy milk for his one-year-old son Karam from a supermarket close to the teahouse. Mohammed, a Shiite, had been killed with his friend Omar, a Sunni, she said.

“We, the people of Kirkuk, have never known any differences between us. It is the political parties that are creating differences to serve their own interests,” she added.

After the attack, the security forces in Kirkuk tried to close other teahouses in the city. Hassan, the owner of the Al-Shabab teahouse, said he would not close his teahouse but would watch carefully everyone entering.

Meanwhile, the war against the young and the country’s teahouses and cafes continues, with 70 people being killed in other attacks in Baghdad, Diyala and other cities last Saturday evening.

Some observers are already referring to another civil war, with Ahmed Ali, a political analyst, saying that “if there is no control over events in Diyala 90km northeast of Baghdad another sectarian war has already begun.”

“The last couple of weeks have seen renewed sectarian tensions and clashes,” he added. 

“The violence is fed by the ongoing political disputes” said Hanan Youssef, an academic, who added that “the situation is unlikely to get any better in Ramadan.”

“The holy month will not be better because the security forces will carry out the same routines, and there will be no changes in their activities,” Youssef said.

Last Sunday saw further attacks against the Taji and Abu Gharib prisons, both west of Baghdad, where thousands of prisoners are being held, among them hundreds who have been sentenced to death.

According to Hamid Musawi, general director of the reform department in the Ministry of Justice, 68 people were killed or wounded in the attacks, among them 46 prisoners.

Musawi said at a press conference that the attacks had begun with the use of more than 100 mortars, the actions of nine suicide bombers, and three car bombs. Reports said that nearly 1,000 prisoners had managed to free themselves or had been freed by the attacks.

Last May, the ministry announced that it had put its hands on plans targeting the Taji and Abu Gharib prisons with the intention of freeing sentenced terrorists.

“If the terror continues in Ramadan, I have no hope in the coming days,” said Sukaina Ragab, whose son, Mustafa, 13, was killed in the attack in Kirkuk.

“Parliamentarians who have every privilege and salaries of more than 35 million Iraqi dinars did not even come to mourn with us. The least they could have done was to visit my area where there were mourning tents for the 12 young martyrs,” she said.

The tears of mothers fill the mourning tents, and candles surround empty chairs in attacked teahouses. For the time being, young Iraqis have nothing to say or to celebrate.

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