Escalating Violence In Iraq Linked to Sectarian, Political and Regional Conflicts

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Posted Nov. 20, 2013

Interview with Lily Hamourtziadou, news collector and recent events editor with Iraq Body Count, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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With little attention from U.S. corporate media or Washington politicians, violence has dramatically increased in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops there at the end of 2012. Suicide bombings and other indiscriminate attacks on both the military and civilians have risen sharply this year, many attributed to militant Sunni groups and/or al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently traveled to Washington requesting U.S. support to rein in the violence, even though his exclusion of the Sunni minority from a meaningful role in his government has, according to many observers, contributed to the escalation of violence.

Iraq Body Count, a joint project of American and British researchers – was founded shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003 to research the baseline of civilian deaths in Iraq and calculate the increase once the war began. Ten years later, their grim research continues.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Dr. Lily Hamourtziadou, a British-based news collector and recent events editor with Iraq Body Count, who has worked with the group over the past decade. Here, Dr. Hamourtziadou examines the number of Iraqi deaths in recent months, and some theories about why the country has seen such a sharp rise in violence, while expressing pessimism about an end to the violence there any time soon.

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: The violence in Iraq has many aspects. One is terrorist attacks against civilians; they are indiscriminate. Someone puts a bomb in a market and 60 people get killed – anybody, Sunni, Shia, children, because you don't know who's shopping at the time. So there is that aspect. Then there is an insurgency, a very clear insurgency – those who want to bring down the government and have a different state – maybe a Sunni state, maybe a Kurdish state. So there is that aspect. And then there is smaller-scale revenge attacks, like killing entire families. We have had many such incidents recently, where people go in someone's house and kill a whole family. And no one really knows why the family was targeted, because no one really claims that they were behind this. At the same time, a new factor is what's happening in Syria this year, because it's a Sunni insurgency against the state, and that has made it easier for so-called al Qaeda in Iraq to directly attack the Iraqi government. It goes beyond just sectarian violence, Sunni and Shia. There are many interests of several states and non-state actors in the Middle East.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What kind of numbers have you seen recently?

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: I compared the levels of violence between October 2012 and March 2013, and April 2013 until now, and I found the violence had tripled. In the first six months of the past year, we recorded nearly 2,000 civilian deaths; in the last six months, it's over 6,000, so since April the violence has risen. Since 2011, when U.S. forces left Iraq, the Iraqi government has actually abandoned any efforts to include Sunnis in the government and the public sector, and Sunni politicians have been marginalized, and there's been great Sunni discontent in Iraq. And there've been protests throughout 2013 – Sunni protests – and on the 23rd of April, Iraqi security forces actually attacked protesters and killed 49. And since then, the violence has risen steadily every month.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is it true then that the majority of the violence has been carried out by Sunnis against Shi'ites?

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: Whether it is by Sunnis, we don't know for sure. Al Qaeda in Iraq may be Sunni, but it's hard to identify terrorists, I suppose. But it is mostly against Shia's, yes, whether they're pilgrims targeted during festivals or agents of the state, such as police officers, politicians. Police officers are killed daily in Iraq, by the way, and this is more to do with insurgency than classic terrorism. Anyone who is an authority figure, if you're against the government, you target.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are police considered civilians, or not. They're not in the army...

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: Yes.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So they're counted [as civilians].

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: Yes. We don't count the soldiers, but I can say through my research that they are targets also.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How does the death toll of military people compare to the death toll of civilians?

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: I don't have the figures for that, but it is much, much lower, because others have done these counts and they're much lower.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You mean the number of soldiers is much lower than civilians.

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: Yes, yes.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You sound fairly pessimistic about an end to the violence.

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: Nothing has really gotten rid of the instability and the insecurity in Iraq, whether it was outside interference of the movement of populations. There were people who left their towns because they were targeted and came back after three years, thinking everything was okay now, and they were killed.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you think there are many Iraqis who would like to see some kind of outside intervention to end the violence?

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: I think there are people in Iraq who now would like the U.S. to come back in – obviously not to attack and occupy – but maybe to help mediate between the Iraqi government and the people. Even Sunnis, I read recently, would like some kind of international involvement in Iraq's crisis, including the U.S., in a non-violent way.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, does Iraq Body Count continue to go forward?

LILY HAMOURTZIADOU: We do plan to continue our work, because the violence is daily. I've been doing this work for years now, and I think in all these years there may have been 7 or 8 days when there were no civilian casualties. So, it is daily violence and we take our work very seriously.

For more information on Iraq Body Count’s work and the rise in violence in Iraq, visit iraqbodycount.org.

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