Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iraqis Suffer Deadly Start to Holy Month of Ramadan; Death Toll of 169 Is Highest First-Week Violence since Insurgency in 2007

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iraqis Suffer Deadly Start to Holy Month of Ramadan; Death Toll of 169 Is Highest First-Week Violence since Insurgency in 2007

Article excerpt

BAGHDAD * Ramadan this year is shaping up to be the deadliest in Iraq since a bloody insurgency and rampant sectarian killings pushed the country to the edge of civil war in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Suicide attacks, car bombings and other violence has killed at least 169 Iraqis just seven days into the Islamic holy month. The death toll in the first week of Ramadan hasn't been that high since 2007.

There seems to be little pattern in the range of targets, adding to the sense of unease in what is meant to be a month of spiritual growth and generosity.

Several of those killed over the past week died at a busy northern teashop while playing mehebis, a game where players hope to win sweets by guessing who among their opposing team is hiding a ring in their hands. Others were slain as they swam with friends, or as they shopped for festive evening dinners, or made their way home from mosques after late-night prayers.

Even for Iraqis who have grown used to hearing about random violence, day after day of double-digit death tolls makes for a worrying trend.

Many are choosing to stay home after breaking their dawn-to-dusk fast rather than venture out for festive family get-togethers and late-night cafe sessions, worrying they could be among the next victims.

"Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups ... have a better ability to move around and attack targets whenever it suits them," said Qais Hameed, an engineer and father of three from eastern Baghdad who quit going to a nearby coffee shop after breaking his daily fast. "This just shows that these terrorist groups are getting stronger while our security forces are getting weaker."

The bloodshed during Ramadan is an extension of a surge of attacks that has been roiling Iraq since the spring. It follows months of rallies by Iraq's minority Sunnis against the Shiite-led government over what they contend is second-class treatment and the unfair use of tough anti-terrorism measures against their sect.

The killings significantly picked up after Iraqi security forces launched a heavy-handed crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija on April 23. A ferocious backlash followed the raid, with deadly bomb attacks and the return of sporadic gunbattles between insurgents and soldiers this time members of the Iraqi security forces rather than U. …

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