Ramadan sees increased violence in Baghdad

October 13, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,Los Angeles TImes

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgent and sectarian attacks in the capital have shot up during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and atonement, according to U.S. military statistics released yesterday.

Since the beginning of the holiday more than two weeks ago, there have been an average of 36 violent incidents daily.

That compares with about 28 a day since mid-June, when U.S. and Iraqi security forces began a high-profile security crackdown designed to stem violence between Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslims.

In the three months before the offensive, there were an average of 22 violent incidents daily. "We assume it will still get worse before it gets better," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters in Baghdad yesterday. "We expect violence to continue to increase over the next two weeks, until the end of Ramadan."

Revered by all Muslims worldwide as the time when Allah revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, the holy month of Ramadan plays a key role in the radical Salafi and Wahabi strains of Sunni Islam. Traditionally, the month has served as a time for demonstrating one's faith by reading the Quran, doing charitable acts, and engaging in personal reflection.

The insurgents likely see Ramadan as a way to express their faith by engaging in acts of warfare against their perceived enemies.

Among the ghastly acts of violence yesterday was an attack by masked gunmen on a new Baghdad satellite television station in which 11 employees were methodically executed, with silencers used to muffle the shots, police and witnesses said.

The victims were among at least 61 Iraqis killed in explosions and shootings, or found dead yesterday as a result of sectarian murders across the country.

Caldwell said Shiite and Sunni gangs were engaged in wanton bloodshed based on sectarian identity.

"We are in fact finding that it's really truly just for pure killing," he said.

A U.S. soldier was also reported killed, a member of the 25th Infantry Division wounded in combat Wednesday along with two other soldiers near the northern city of Kirkuk.

At least 44 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the first 11 days of the month, putting October on a pace to be one of the most deadly for American troops since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Among those killed at the television station was the chairman of the al-Shaabiya channel's board of directors, Abdul Raheem Nasrallah. He also was leader of the small nationalist political party behind the station.

Most of the others killed in the 7 a.m. attack on the new privately owned pan-Arab station were bodyguards and technicians. The programming director clung to life yesterday evening at a Baghdad hospital, with bullet wounds to the neck and mouth. Another man was also wounded.

At least some of the killers were said to have been wearing police uniforms and arrived in cars that resembled official police vehicles, raising suspicions the killings were tied to Shiite Muslims militias that allegedly have infiltrated the Ministry of Interior security forces.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose Al Mahdi militia is suspected of involvement in sectarian killings, denounced such slayings as sacrilegious.

"The wrongdoer cannot hide behind what is right, and the title of the Mahdi army is a title of righteousness," he said in a statement. "Those wrongdoers should make use of the Ramadan period, and repent as long as the doors of repentance are wide open."

Borzou Daragahi writes for Los Angeles Times.

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