With Sobering Report on Sectarian Violence, UN Puts Renewed Focus on Iraq

By LaFranchi, Howard | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

With Sobering Report on Sectarian Violence, UN Puts Renewed Focus on Iraq


LaFranchi, Howard, The Christian Science Monitor


Over recent weeks and months, the world has trained much of its attention on Syria, as nearly five years of civil war have continued to send refugees pouring into Europe and as world powers have pursued sometimes-conflicting aims through separate military interventions.

All the attention on Syria has relegated next-door-neighbor Iraq to also-noted status. But a new United Nations report chronicling the violence suffered by Iraq's civilian population over the past two years paints a troubling picture of a diverse society under siege. In particular, the report released Tuesday highlights what it calls the "genocidal" threats that the country's religious minorities face from the Islamic State (IS).

The report registers a toll of nearly 19,000 civilians killed in sectarian violence and several thousand women and children enslaved by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, between January 2014 and last October. More than 3 million Iraqis are internally displaced, the report says, noting that about 1 million of those are school- age children - thus underlining the threat that the violence poses to the country's future.

In recent months, there have been some signs of Iraq resisting the pull of sectarian violence. But the report puts a renewed focus on the country's steep challenges, serving as a wake-up call for the international community.

As if to underscore the challenges, the report's release coincides with a wave of sectarian violence in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad known for its diversity and peaceful Shiite- Sunni coexistence. The Iraqi government had proudly declared Diyala "IS-free" last year, but a series of deadly bombings over recent days in the Diyala city of Muqdadiyah, claimed by the extremist Sunni group, appeared to be aimed at least in part at debunking that assertion.

Just as worrying was the wave of reprisal violence against Diyala's Sunni population that followed the bombings: Sunni mosques were set ablaze, while reports emerged of the Shiite militias in control of much of the province kidnapping Sunnis and dragging others from their homes and executing them.

The violence prompted Sunni parliamentarians to boycott the national assembly, and some Iraqi politicians warned that deterioration in Diyala posed a threat to Iraq's cohesion.

"The attacks on mosques and houses in Muqdadiyah is a threat to Iraqi coexistence," the Sunni speaker of Iraq's national parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, said in a statement.

Despite the dire picture painted by Diyala's sectarian violence and the UN report, there have been some indicators suggesting how Iraq is resisting the tug of sectarian recriminations and violence.

Most notably Iraq's highest Shiite religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the attacks on Diyala's Sunni mosques and called for unity among all Iraqis. He also admonished the government to work harder to rid the country of all militant groups, including those working in tandem with government security forces.

The comment appeared to be aimed in part at Shiite militias operating in Iraq, the most powerful of which are supported by Iran.

Another recent event suggesting a path forward for Iraq was last month's retaking of the Sunni city of Ramadi from IS fighters. …

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