Iraq Body Count figures for August 9: 4 killed
IBC total to-date for August, 2013: 199 civilians killed
It was too soon to hope that maybe things were calming down in Iraq. Reuters is reporting almost 80 were killed Saturday (per the headline; the article says 57, with 150 wounded, but casualty figures usually go up and the Washington Post had the death toll at 69 about an hour ago). At least a dozen bombings targeted Shi’i areas of Baghdad, during Eid festivities of course, to maximize casualties. Another bombing in Tuz Khormato killed 10, and one in Karbala, probably the holiest city in Shi’i Islam apart from Mecca and Medina, killed 4.
There are two signs that the situation is going to get worse. For one thing, the Iraqi interior ministry is saying absolutely the wrong thing about this violence:
The Interior Ministry has said the country faced an “open war” fuelled by Iraq’s sectarian divisions and has ramped up security in Baghdad, closing roads and sending out frequent helicopter patrols.
This kind of talk helps nobody. The Iraqi government ought to be emphasizing the unity of the country’s Shi’i and Sunni populations, the vast majority of both having been targeted by Sunni extremists/terrorists in recent months. There’s nothing to be gained by playing into the idea that “Sunni discontent” or “sectarian divisions” are behind this violence; the majority of Iraq’s Sunni population has been targeted by this wave of violence, not perpetrating it, and exacerbating the tensions that do exist between the government and the Sunni population, and creating open, violent divisions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’i populations is exactly what the terrorists are trying to accomplish. Why not, instead, stress that everybody in the country–Sunni and Shi’i, Arab and Kurd–has been victimized by the actions of a small cadre of committed terrorists? This has the virtue of being both true and strategically/rhetorically helpful to the cause of ending the violence.
For another, it seems like Sunni Arab extremists soon won’t be the only Iraqi faction that is engaging in military activity on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border:
On Saturday, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan said his region was prepared to defend Kurds living in neighboring Syria, in what appeared to be the first warning of a possible intervention and a further sign that the conflict is spilling over Syria’s borders.
Syria’s Kurds, despite being themselves Sunni, are fighting Sunni fundamentalists from groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria rather than the Assad government. There was an unconfirmed (still, as far as I can tell) report earlier this week that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters massacred some 450 Kurdish women and children in a village near the Turkish border, which is what is prompting this rhetoric from Iraq’s Kurdish leaders. There’s a lot of potential here for an already terrible situation to get incredibly worse. Turkey has had a problem with its own restless Kurdish population for, well, centuries really, but specifically since the rise of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 1974. The government of Turkey has been negotiating with the PKK recently, but lately talks aren’t going so great. If Turkey and the PKK can reach an agreement it may give Turkey some leverage over the actions of the Kurds in Syria, which could be a problem for Assad since Turkey backs the Syrian rebels and would undoubtedly try to get the Kurds to back off and let the rebels concentrate on Assad. However, if these attacks on Syria’s Kurds continue then Turkey’s support for the rebels may very well wind up killing its chances for peace with the PKK. Suddenly Turkey could be looking at new hostilities with a PKK that is actively collaborating with its fellow Kurds in Syria and Iraq, and that’s what you call “escalation.”