Imam's killing sparks fresh fears
By Abdu Rahman and Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD - The assassination of Sheikh Ghazi Jabouri, a prominent Sunni imam in
the al- Adhamiya district of Baghdad, has raised fears of renewed sectarian
violence in the wake of the March 7 elections.
Tensions have been reported in the area following the assassination on
Wednesday last week. At least two gunmen killed Jabouri, 42, as he walked home
after completing morning prayers at the Rahman Mosque.
His brother, Sarmad Faisal Jabouri, like many Iraqis in Adhamiya district,
blames the government. "We hold the government fully
responsibility for the killing of my brother, because they are supposed to be
in control of security at the entrances and exits to the area," Jabouri said.
The attack came on a morning when a high-ranking officer in Iraq's
anti-terrorism police was killed by a bomb planted in his car. The attack also
killed two nearby policemen.
The violence comes amid a wave of increasing attacks across the capital, and
amid political instability in the wake of last month's elections that have yet
to yield a clear winner.
The United States fears that rising sectarian violence could begin to match the
2006-2007 unrest that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across the
Sectarian violence had erupted across much of Iraq earlier in 2006, forcing the
George W Bush administration to add 30,000 more troops to the occupation forces
General Ray Odierno, in charge of US forces in Iraq, says any repeat of that
kind of sectarian violence could stall the scheduled drawdown of US troops,
currently numbering about 96,000.
Adding tension to the already precarious political situation, Iraq's Election
Commission announced on April 19 that it was ordering a full manual recount of
all ballots cast in Baghdad. The move is likely to alter the results of the
vote, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said. His bloc is trailing that of
former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi 91-89.
Sheikh Abu Arabiya al-Adhami, imam of a mosque in Adhamiya district, told Inter
Press Service (IPS) he believed the killers of Jabouri were trying to fuel
"We do not know who wants the Iraqis to be in worse condition, and who wants to
destroy our nation," the sheikh told IPS after the burial. Iraqi army
personnel, he said, "were in the neighborhood but did not try to catch the
A 38-year-old resident who gave his name as Tariq told IPS: "At five in the
morning we awoke to the sound of gunshots near our house. There was a weak
voice pleading, 'Why? Why? I did not do anything, please'."
After that, Tariq said, he heard another shot and then silence. "I went out to
catch the criminals, but they had fled quickly. I say to the Iraqi government:
if you cannot protect us, why have our weapons been taken by the Iraqi army?
Why not let us protect ourselves?"
This area of Baghdad has seen much violence recently. The past few weeks have
seen the assassination of the commander of the US-formed Sunni militia known as
the Sahwa, or the Awakening groups. Sniper fire killed a pharmacist a week ago,
and a car bomb attack nearly killed a university professor.
Forty-year-old Khalil Naimi, a security official with the local Sahwa in
Adhamiya, said there was a year of peace under their charge, but problems began
again after government security forces took control at the end of 2008.
"We therefore demand the recovery of the Awakening movement for real, and not
as a formality, as is happening now."
The US has formally handed control of the Sahwa to the government, after
helping set them up. Since then the Sahwa have been disenfranchised and largely
left out of the security forces in predominantly Sunni areas like Adhamiya.
The formation of the predominantly Sunni Sahwa by the US was a method of ending
attacks against US forces, as the Sahwa are largely comprised of former
Government security forces dominated by Shi'ites are widely believed to be
largely sectarian. In the past, as now, many Iraqis in areas like the
predominantly Sunni district of Adhamiya fear that Kurdish or Shi'ite
government forces do not adequately protect people in the district, and
sometimes attack them.
Naimi says "there is a conspiracy to bring sectarian problems back to the
country". But he said he hopes this can be averted because "Iraqis have learned
the lesson and will not repeat mistakes of the past again".
Allawi warned last Wednesday that Iraq could slide back into sectarian violence
if his group is shut out of the next government. He said the US should work
more aggressively to prevent that from happening.
In another development that is heightening sectarian tensions, Amnesty
International called on Iraqi authorities on April 19 to investigate
allegations that government security forces tortured hundreds of Sunni
detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad.
The Sunday LA Times quoted Iraqi officials as saying that more than 100 of the
facility's 431 prisoners were tortured using electric shocks, suffocation with
plastic bags and beatings. Prisoners reportedly revealed that one man died in
January as a result of torture.
Abdu Rahman, the IPS correspondent in Baghdad, works in close
collaboration with Dahr Jamail, IPS's US-based specialist writer on Iraq
who reports extensively on the region.