Sunday, August 20, 2006

Further Attacks on Returning Pilgrims Likely

The security measures announced by the green zone government desperate to prevent carnage during the weekend devotions in honour of the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim ibn Jafar as Sadiq (الإمام موسى الكاظم‎) appear to have only partially paid off. Both the green zone government and the American army of occupation are aware that any incident comparable in scale to last years catastrophic al-Aa'ma Bridge tragedy would lead to retribution on a scale not to be contemplated and would undoubtedly lead to the complete collapse of the green zone government led by Nouri Al-Maliki. During last year's commemoration of the seventh Imam pilgrims panicked by rumours that suicide bombers were in their midst stampeded. This led to the railings of the bridge giving way and many people were forced off the bridge into the Tigris and drowned, others were crushed or suffered asphyxia. The full death toll is still not known the authorities have put provisionally put it at 965 but some people who went missing on that day have still not been accounted for and the figure does not includes rescuers who perished. The true fatalities figure is likely to be at least 1,000 people most of whom were women and children. The measures taken in addition to the existing nightly curfew in Baghdad between 09:00 p.m. and 06:00 a.m.include:

Some of the 10s of thousands of pilgrims marching to the Shrine of the 7th Imam August 20th 2006Tens of thousands of Shiite Pilgrims seen here making their way to the 7th imams shrine are taking part in the annual rituals of grief and commemoration for the death of Imam Moussa Kadhim.Mother and children mourning Wisam Ali, 13, who was killed on the way to the Imam Moussa Kadhim shrineWisam Ali, aged 13, was killed on the way to the Imam Moussa Kadhim shrine in al-Kadhimiya today August 20th 2006. His mother and siblings seen here mourning him are awaiting Wisam's father to return with his body.
  • A curfew until 6:00 a.m. Monday August 21st in the 11 districts surrounding al-Kadhimiya has been instigated by the Defense Ministry.
  • A large number of checkpoints and searches have been set up.
  • The security forces under Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bulani have greatly increased their presence at Imam Moussa Al-Kadhim's Shrine and it's environs.
  • In addition to the measures undertaken by the green zone government the Mehdi army militia loyal to Muqdata al-Sadr have mounted a massive operation to protect pilgrims travelling to Baghdad from the provinces for the festival. They appear to be being prevented from mounting a similar operation in the capital itself.

So far there have been a number of attacks on pilgrims. Yesterday (Saturday) was relatively quiet in Baghdad and as far as I can determine the only confirmed fatalities directly attributable to attacks upon pilgrims were the deaths by shooting of a group of seven pilgrims making their way on foot to al-Kadhimiya through the predominantly Sunni al-Adel district on Friday night.

Today's Attacks

The attacks today Sunday August 20th 2006 were mostly sniper attacks and seem to have been concentrated in the following districts:

  • Al-Fadl (central Baghdad.)
  • Al-Jihad (central Baghdad) and,
  • Haifa (western Baghdad.)

According to Dr. Jassem Latif, head of the health ministry operations room the toll so far from these attacks is 20 dead and 302 wounded. He expects this toll to go higher as most of the injuries "as most of the injuries were serious."

Blood Products and Fuel For Ambulance in Short Supply

As I have reported repeatedly Iraq's health system is close to collapse. At present Baghdad in particular is experiencing a fuel shortage and ambulance services are being affected by this. Additionally according to both to Dr. Lattif and email reports received by me today there is a serious shortage of blood and blood products in Baghdad's hospitals. Moreover the fuel situation coupled with Baghdad's dire power supply means that hospital generators cut out and patients in surgery or on life support machines die as a result. None of this augurs well for those already injured let alone any people wounded in further attacks.

Further Attacks on Returning Pilgrims Likely

It is likely that there will be further attacks upon pilgrims. In particular I expect there to be many attacks upon pilgrims making their way home to the provinces from the ceremonies. The number of Pilgrims this year was especially high because many people were determined to participate in memory of those who were killed in last year's catastrophe upon al-Aa'ma Bridge. At the time of writing the main ceremonies are now over and participants are making their way home. Fortunately a remembrance prayer event attended by thousands of pilgrims who gathered on al-A'ama Bridge to commemorate and pray for the more than 1000 people crushed to death or drowned in last year's in a stampede seems to have passed without incident.

This posting is respectfully dedicated to Othman Abdul Hafez, a sunni Arab teenager from the other side of the bridge. He kept on diving into the Tigris pulling people out and diving back in again. Eventualy he succumbed to exhaustion and drowned. God grant him eternal joy in paradise for his courage and compassion.


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