Bloodshed in Baghdad
Grieving Catholics in Baghdad marked All Saints Day Monday in mourning for 46 Christians killed during a hostage drama with Al-Qaeda gunmen that ended in an assault by Iraqi forces backed by US troops.
Mourners throughout Monday were seen carrying coffins containing bodies of the dead from out of the church and loading them onto vehicles for transfer to the morgue. Most of the victims were to be buried on Tuesday.The rescue drama on Sunday night, two months after US forces formally concluded combat operations in Iraq, ended with two priests among at least 46 slain worshippers.
"It was carnage," said Monsignor Pius Kasha, whose Syriac Catholic church was targeted by the militants, whom witnesses said were all armed with automatic rifles and suicide belts."There were less than 80 people inside the church, and only 10 to 12 escaped unhurt," he said, giving an account that differed from the official Iraqi version. He said two priests were killed, and 25 worshippers were wounded, among them a priest who was shot in the kidney.
An interior ministry official, in an updated toll, said there had been more than 100 worshippers in the church and that 46 had been killed and 60 wounded. He said seven security members also had died, adding that five attackers were killed.A witness said that immediately on entering the Sayidat al-Nejat Syriac Christian cathedral during evening mass, the gunmen shot dead a priest while worshippers huddled in fear.
"They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest," said one of the freed hostages, an 18-year-old man who declined to give his name."We heard a lot of gunfire and explosions, and some people were hurt from falling windows, doors and debris."
Iraqi officials had said that at least one of the gunmen who raided the cathedral had blown himself up with a suicide belt as police made a first attempt to enter. Witnesses said the militants had began to fire their weapons as soon as they entered the church.
Traces of Flesh, blood, bullet marks and shattered glass littered the cathedral, said an AFP journalist who went to the scene in Baghdad's central Karrada district Monday."It resembles a battlefield," he said.
US soldiers dressed in combat gear also took part in the assault, some of the witnesses said."I was freed by Americans, they came first and the Iraqis came after," said an 18-year-old man outside the church, shortly after drama ended.
Another freed hostage said the same, and an AFP reporter saw American soldiers in assault gear at the scene.But Sameer al-Shuaili, spokesman of Iraq's anti-terror unit, said that no Americans were involved.
"The (Iraqi) anti-terror forces are the only forces who raided the church, there were no Americans at all," he said.The US military said it had "advisers" near the scene, but that US soldiers were not involved in the assault.
"There were no US soldiers involved in the assault to free the hostages," said Colonel Barry Johnson, a US military spokesman in Iraq.The Chaldean bishop of Baghdad, Bishop Shlimoune Wardouni, said that the gunmen were demanding the release of detainees held in Iraq and Egypt.
The SITE monitoring group said Monday that the Islamic State of Iraq, the local branch of Al-Qaeda, had claimed the Baghdad attack, saying its fighters had captured the Christians and also gave the Coptic church in Egypt a 48-hour deadline to release women it said were being held captive by the Christians.
SITE said the threat comes amid calls by jihadists and Al-Qaeda's media arm for Muslims to take action against the Egyptian Coptic church over the alleged imprisonment of two women, both wives of Coptic priests.
Egypt refused on Monday to react to the demands."Egypt categorically rejects having its name or affairs pushed into such criminal acts," the foreign ministry said in a statement issued in Cairo. It also "strongly condemned" the attack on the Baghdad church.
The Vatican, Italy and France also condemned the hostage-taking in Baghdad, with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday branding the attack as "absurd and ferocious violence" against Christians in Iraq.Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq in 2003 but their number has since shrunk to 550,000 as members of the community have fled abroad, according to Christian leaders.
Iraqi Christians have frequently been the target of violence, including murder and abductions. Hundreds have been killed and several churches attacked since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003.Violence has abated in Iraq since its peak in 2006-2007, but deadly bombings, gunfights and kidnappings are still routine.
By Khalil Murshadi
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Iraqi antiterrorist forces stormed a church where gunmen had taken close to 100 hostages on Sunday in an afternoon of chaos that became a bloodbath. At least 30 hostages and 7 security officers were killed, and 41 hostages and 15 security force members were wounded, according to a source at the Ministry of the Interior.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, the minister of defense, said that most of the hostages were killed or wounded when the kidnappers set off at least two suicide vests as they took over the church. He defended the decision to storm the building, saying, "This was a successful operation with a minimum of casualties, and killing all the terrorists." He added that an unspecified number of suspects were also arrested.
The source at the Ministry of the Interior said that the police had arrested eight gunmen believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant organization connected to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.Hussain Nahidh, a police officer who saw the interior of the church, said: "It’s a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to the hospitals without legs and hands."
The violence began shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday. The gunmen first attacked the Baghdad stock exchange in the Karada neighborhood, killing two security guards and wounding four others, setting off two bombs and then taking refuge in the nearby Sayidat al-Nejat church.The church — one of six bombed in August 2004 — was filled for Sunday services. A local television channel, Baghdadiya, reported receiving a telephone call from someone claiming to be one of the attackers and demanding the release of all members of Al Qaeda imprisoned in Arab countries.
Karada is an area dotted with federal police checkpoints, local police patrols and political parties with security details, as well as security guards attached to the stock market and the church. Mr. Obeidi, the defense minister, said, "It seems like there was negligence by the security forces, which we will investigate later."The attack came two days after a suicide attack at a cafe in Diyala Province killed 21 people, the worst assault in more than a month, and as members of Iraq’s four political blocs planned to meet in the heavily fortified Green Zone to try to break the impasse that has left Iraq without a new government nearly eight months after the national election.
Major acts of violence have not proliferated during the political deadlock, as many have feared, but smaller, focused attacks have been commonplace, stirring fears of a return to high levels of bloodshed.The Iraqi antiterrorist unit, known as the Golden Force, which has been criticized for not being able to stop attacks, moved quickly to end the siege. Its forces swarmed the church by helicopter and sent in grenades and smoke grenades, but were rebuffed by the terrorists.
Security officers then stormed the church from the ground, breaking through the gates. Spokesmen from the police and the Ministry of the Interior would not give details of the final assault on the church, or say how many kidnappers were involved.It was unclear whether the attackers’ main target was the stock market or the church, or whether they planned to attack both.
The church, with a huge cross visible from hundreds of yards away, was already surrounded with concrete bollards and razor wire, and church leaders have been fearful of attack since the Rev. Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., threatened to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mr. Jones decided not to burn the Koran.
By JOHN LELAND, Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting.
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The planned execution of Iraq’s Tariq Aziz has once more illustrated the sectarian and racist nature of the US,UK and Iranian imposed Vichy regime of Nouri Maliki.
Not satisfied with having the blood of over one million Iraqi’s on their hands, through their collaborationist efforts, which have also seen an unprecedented degree of ethnic cleansing towards Iraq’s native minority communities, to further pass the death sentence over someone for the crime of "suppressing religious political parties" is nothing more than an open incitement to a lynch mob, that far out weighs the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Whilst there are some in Britain, who may applaud the decision by Maliki to murder someone who actually has an Iraqi passport, unlike the quislings in the present Iraqi Government who first sought asylum in Britain in the 1970’s , only to return to Iraq, cowering behind British soldiers in 2003, the "guilt" of Mr. Aziz is based upon the fact that the now ruling Dawa Party sought to assassinate members of the Iraqi government in the 1980’s, in an open incitement to terrorism prompted by the words of their grand Ayatollah’s in Iran.
With Aziz now being on hunger strike, the conviction passed over him has been met with a massive amount of resistance from the Vatican, the President of Greece, the UN and both the ruling Russian Government and the Communist Party but it is amazing that in light of the WikiLeaks revelations, that Britain has not sought to regain some credibility in the Middle East, especially when the party of the Deputy Prime Minister still prides itself on being the only one in Parliament that was "opposed to the Iraq war".
As Jeremy Corbyn MP recently stated on one news station, that Britain allegedly has a good track record of consistently opposing the death penalty, but it will remain to be seen if any of the Political parties in Great Britain will take hold of the enormity of the carnage, that they helped to create inside of Iraq, and seek to start providing reparations to the Iraqi people, by first making a stand against the proposed execution of Tariq Aziz.
by Hussein Al-Alak of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign and first published on Uruknet.
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Throughout my conscious years, I have witnessed with disbelief and increasing hopelessness the limitless human capacity for cruelty and barbarism- quite often comfortably cloaked in terms of righteousness and piety. A vast number of instances of this ongoing blot upon the soul of humanity are readily attributable to the audacity of power, and the ability of the human animal to compartmentalize, commit the most inhuman acts, and go on living unperturbed to see another day.
Long before arriving in the United States, I had followed with the greatest admiration the principle of ahimsa, non-violence, as the highest principle that elevated the human being above all other living species. Of course, in our own time, Gandhi showed the world how ahimsa could be effectively used as a mighty weapon that could transform the most beastly and merciless of adversaries. And Gandhi's great Indian contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, spoke tirelessly about the need for awakening the universal bonds of beauty and humanity that unites all human beings, while celebrating their various differences of skin tones, languages, arts, cuisines and cultures (including religious beliefs or disbeliefs) and places of origin.
Of course, illuminated souls such as Tagore and Gandhi were obviously well aware of the idealistic dimensions and hence the practical limitations of their thoughts. Tagore especially was much more pragmatic about the reality of human frailties and dark proclivities throughout history. He spoke eloquently about these relentless human demons in his poem Prithibi (Ode to the Earth).
The first glaring instance of witnessing the abject brutality and arrogance of power occurred for me in 1977, when, a hitherto-no-name army general, appointed to high rank by the eminent Pakistani political leader and long-time Prime Minister of that country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), imprisoned and then sentenced to death (via a kangaroo court) in a completely trumped-up case, his former benefactor. This is of course commonly the way of crude ideologues and heartless zealots, and Zia-ul Haq fit those characteristics admirably. Despite some of his faults, I had known Bhutto as a leader of our neighboring country, and compared with many of the ill-informed, non-intellectual, guts-driven ignoramuses of today (a great many of which we find in this country), ZAB came across as well-educated, statesman-like, erudite and highly personable. I was in my third year at India's I.I.T., and had recently witnessed (1971) the creation of Bangladesh out of the erstwhile East Pakistan, and remembered ZAB's having first imprisoned, and at the end of the tumultuous 1971 war with India, releasing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to his newly-independent people. I remembered him from the Simla accord with Mrs. Indira Gandhi (with daughter Benazir by his side). As such, politics and our painful history of the imperially machinated partition aside, I held ZAB with some regard, and even more so as a civilian leader in a country perpetually in the grips of military dictators. Therefore, the news of a death sentence handed to this long-standing world leader on what amounted to nothing more than a calculated vendetta, shocked me greatly. In reality, perhaps out of naiveté, I truly thought that this was all a show- they could definitely never carry out this act of extreme barbarity. I was reminded, however, of the many acts of ghastly barbarity that history was full of in the annals of power struggle, including royal ascensions. Who would ever forget what Aurangzeb had done to his brothers, including Dara Shikoh, arguably the noblest Mughal heir of all? But in the late 20th Century? Surely the human race had evolved enough to be past such monstrous acts, of retribution, of the contemptible power grab?
Then, too, several leading voices (the Pope, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Nobel Laureates) around the world pleaded with the general in the "God Cloak" (note that there is a long tradition of putting on the holy cloak in these matters, from the infamous Spanish Inquisition down to the savage executioner from Texas in this country- holy men all, all Born Again spokespeople for a bloodthirsty ephemeral entity) - please spare ZAB's life; he had served Pakistan well over many years. Ultimately, however, nothing worked, and the "God obsessed" general fulfilled his godly mission. ZAB's voice was stilled by society's ultimate barbarity, the savage death penalty. There are times I still feel benumbed by recollections of this ghastly act. Who will ever judge the acts of murderous crimes committed by the godly general? Who will ever judge the crimes of the victor in the ongoing history of mankind?
For many years, I have also been educated on the comfortable alliance the United States has historically forged with dictators and zealots, in nation after nation. Often times, it has done so by the unseating using any number of means (including assassinations) legitimately elected public officials in other countries, and supplanting them with ruthless bandits of their choice. The list of these is a veritable who's who of contemporary history. Hence, it is really no surprise that the religious zealot/strongman, Zia-ul Haq, became a very close American ally for more than a decade, thereby enabling the breeding of more than a generation of fundamentalist assassins (the jihadis and mujahideens that American Right-Wingers now view with such contempt, and strange words they now spout with such relish) with American dollars. Sadly, this has been the American (read that as Wall Street) modus operandi all over the world, and not only in Pakistan. Keep the wheels of American Prosperity turning at any cost, by any means- killing, carpet bombing, annihilating as many of the third world darkies as needed to achieve the American dream.
In the late 1980s, I had recoiled at the spectacle of the mighty Goliath from the North swooping down upon the minuscule nation of Panama, and right before the eyes of the world, "arresting" the ruler of that country (Manuel Noriega), and bringing him for "trial" to the golden shores of the LandofthefreeHomeoftheBrave. Ironic, indeed! It is well known that Noriega was previously on the CIA's payroll, and likely a useful pal of the elder Bush patriarch. I assume he had somehow outlived his usefulness for the Goliath, as did Saddam Hussein a few years later. The sheer audacity of the United States in invading sovereign nations, with impunity, decade after decade, looting or plundering their wealth, and handling their leaders worse than slavemasters (something the U.S. certainly has a centuries-long tradition and training in) treated their slaves- simply boggles the mind. These are, plain and simple, international crimes of the highest magnitude. But the Goliath has had his victories, and to the Victors go the spoils of war (or, the case of the U.S., war crimes).
The above, and several other spectacles of the audacity and tyranny of the mighty upon the weak, have pained me deeply for as long as I can remember. To the extent that I have watched with horror the lowliest and most barbaric act of his captors handing Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein over to his worst enemies, knowing full well what fate would befall him as a consequence. This is as contrary to my concept of civilization as I can imagine. In this context, I always cite the example of Alexander the Great speaking with the utmost dignity to the Indian King Puru (more than 2300 years ago) after the latter was defeated in battle, and later releasing him back to his people with full honors. In instance after instance, the American example falls far short of the civilizational standard established by Alexander. The savage sadism of a society that can take pleasure in displaying the bullet-riddled bodies of their so-called enemies (Saddam Hussein's two sons) all over the internet simply tells me such a society has not evolved much along Darwin's ladder. America displays the characteristics of a soulless, corporate-driven society that gladly displays the humiliation of its victims (I will label any person captured via illegal war crimes a "victim" of the lawless invader) for the entertainment of its consumerist, and increasingly soulless public.
The unprovoked, unjustified, criminal invasion of Iraq (and other nations around the world over the past 100+ years), and the blood of millions of innocents are upon America's conscience, and the conscience of its immoral leaders. The crimes of Henry Kissinger and George W. Bush (and a host of other individuals walking around free, giving speeches and enjoying the American way like nothing is the matter) are grievous by far than anything the arrogant victors append upon their victims. Yet, the ways of the mighty are strange, indeed! The very tyrants and war criminals behind some of the most ghastly mass killings committed by human beings, thereafter sit in judgment of their victims- in complete disregard for humanity and civilization. This is surreal, this is unreal, this is truly an upside-down world. This is, plain and simple, the way of imperialism and tyranny.
It is in this context that I must register here and now my horror and revulsion upon learning of the "sentence" handed down to Iraq's ex-deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. It is benumbing in its arrogance and barbarity. Iraq is a country in tatters, millions of its people who were living their lives (as is the fundamental right of all creatures created upon this planet) prior to 2003 mercilessly murdered by the criminal American/British invasion, innumerable of its children dead on account of savage dictates by the mighty imposing sanctions that denied these innocents even basic medicines, violence of the worst kind a daily scene in that country that was once an oasis of secularism (even if by no means perfect) in a fundamentalist, tyrannical middle-east. Yet, the architects of such criminal offenses and their planted minions have the audacity to sit in judgment of, and proclaim moral verdicts upon their victims!
Throughout the late 1980s, until the criminal invasion by the U.S. and its chattels in 2003, most of us were rather familiar with Tariq Aziz- either as Iraq's foreign minister, or later as deputy Prime Minister of that country. It is definitely not my place to decide the degree of flaws or virtues invested in leaders of other countries, certainly not with the kind of moral certitude that it is commonplace for U.S. leaders to identify good and evil around the world. Regardless, I usually found myself in agreement with some of Aziz's statements (the few released to the public by the American media), often delivered at the United Nations (an institution, while generally toothless, nevertheless defiled, vilified and routinely manipulated by the U.S.). I felt sympathetic towards Mr. Aziz primarily because he would speak out against imperialism, and the typical Western bullying of the darker nations. Most awakened human beings are well aware of the long-standing exploitation and pauperization of darker nations by the U.S., its ubiquitous partner-in-crime, Great Britain, and world-domination outfits such as NATO, the World Bank and the IMF. Hence, I am reasonably certain that I am not alone in my sympathies for those that vocalize against racist and corporatist thuggery applied against people of former colonies.
Since Iraq, even under the well-trumpeted "evil guy" Saddam Hussein, was essentially secular- its government was a combination of Shias, Sunnis and Christians. This was already an improvement upon the many allies of the U.S. in the region- autocratic, fundamentalist regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and so forth. In this context, I understand that Tariq Aziz was a Christian member of Hussein's cabinet. Therefore, it is difficult for me to fathom what heinous crimes this Christian cabinet member would engage in with regards to the Shia-Sunni divide prevalent throughout the Middle-East. Like ZAB in Pakistan before him, to me Tariq Aziz came across as cerebral, dedicated and reasonably well-versed in international relations. His problem, I am sure, started when, like Salvador Allende, Mohammed Mossadegh, Manuel Noriega, and so many others earlier his government and nation became trained under the cross-hairs of Empire and its insatiable need for resources. Indeed, heaven help anyone upon whom befalls the wrath of Empire.
The kangaroo court (as most such courts tend to be) that renders such barbaric verdicts, as it is, has little credibility in my view. I generally regard those "rulers" of any sovereign nation that ascend to power by joining hands with their invaders, plunderers, and imperial rapists (the latter metaphor was aptly used in describing invading hordes and war criminals by Susan Block some years ago in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003) as among the very lowliest of the human species. The likes of Chalabi, Allawi and Maliki admirably fit into this mold- the slimy reptiles of human society (the degree of reptilian quality might vary somewhat). Sadly, most violated countries have such despicable characters- Karzai in Afghanistan, Mubarak in Egypt, and so forth. As such, when such abject traitors put their own countrymen up for trial in order to gain favors from the tyrants and invaders- to me it is just another murderous act by a cabal of ruthless criminals. The crimes of their victims usually pale by comparison.
I have not noticed thus far much international reaction or scorn with regards to this sentence handed to an honorable former prime minister. I did notice the Pope making a statement asking for clemency. But, as far as I am concerned, this event puts the basic humanity of Barack Obama and the Democrats up for an important morality test. I have my doubts that the non-Republicans will ever show enough courage to stand up to the killing machine of Empire, and stand up for morality and humanity. After all, when it comes to morality and conscience, the Democrats appear to fare only marginally better than the "what is in it for me," and "kill those others" Republicans. I believe deeply that opposing the barbaric death penalty is one of the utmost moral choices a human being can make. Any society that practices this barbarity is obviously low on the evolutionary ladder. It is unthinkable to me that there are millions that spout "Christianity" (or other faiths that often blind the functioning human mind), and yet see no problem violating a plainly-worded dictum, "Thou shalt not kill." If the millions understood this dictum, honestly, there would be wars and genocides no longer. My heart goes out to Tariq Aziz and his family, as it does to all victims of violence and barbarity in this world. My sympathies here have nothing to do with condoning brutal acts committed by the Iraqi regime that Mr. Aziz served. It is, foremost, a condemnation of tyrants and invaders whose barbarity in my view exceeds those of the accused/vanquished that they sit in judgment of. And even more, it is a complete and unequivocal condemnation and rejection of the socially-endorsed practice of killing a human being- an immoral and barbaric practice carried over from the dark ages.
Monish R. Chatterjee received the B.Tech. (Hons) degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from I.I.T., Kharagpur, India, in 1979, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Iowa, Iowa
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Lots of people have weighed in to condemn the planned execution of Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi official who was condemned to death this week, including the Vatican, Russia, and Amnesty International. Let me add my voice to theirs.
The hanging judge in this particular kangaroo court is a former aide to Prime Minister Maliki, who ran for election on Maliki’s misnamed State of Law coalition. It’s clear that Maliki wants to use the execution of Tariq Aziz, a Roman Catholic, to build support for his party among the most extreme Shiite partisans. Like Maliki’s support for the pre-election shenanigans in January, when Iran and Ahmed Chalabi maneuvered to exclude hundreds of legitimate candidates from running over charges of connections to the old Baath Party, Maliki wants to wave the bloody shirt of Tariq Aziz to rally his supporters. The fact that he’s not a Muslim makes that even more popular among Shiite radicals.
Anyone who dealt with Iraq from the 1970s through 2003 knows that Tariq Aziz shouldn’t be put to death for crimes committed during the Saddam Hussein era. As a civilian official, he was often a moderating voice within Iraqi councils, including during the first Gulf War in 1990-91, and he certainly wasn’t responsible for internal repression by the secret police. The biggest irony in the whole affair is that the very people who’ve condemned him to death, led by functionaries of the secretive, Islamic fundamentalist Dawa party led by Prime Minister Maliki, are themselves responsible for atrocities at least on the scale of the repression visited on the Shiites and Kurds in the old Iraq.
Since taking over in Baghdad in 2003, the Shiite majority has been responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, carried out by Shiite death squads under the command of the Badr Corps, the militia of the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrist Mahdi Army, now allied to Maliki’s political bloc, and by Dawa fanatics, too, who helped run infamous prisons in Iraq where many innocent Sunnis were tortured or killed. It should be noted that in 1980, soon after becoming Iraq’s deputy prime minister, assassins from Dawa, backed by Iran, threw a grenade that almost killed Aziz and did kill a number of others. At the time, the new regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran was bent on expanding its power by toppling the government of Iraq, and Dawa—which had been responsible for other terrorist acts in Iraq, too, over the years—helped raise tensions that provoked the eight-year Iran-Iraq was that began in September 1980.
A spokesman for the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, said, "We really want the sentence against Tariq Aziz not to be carried out." Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that killing Aziz "will only worsen the situation in Iraq." Part of the reason why Iraq wants him dead, and why the United States hasn’t intervened on his behalf, is that Aziz reportedly plans to spill secrets about Iraq’s diplomacy over the decades that he served as foreign minister, including American contacts with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, when Washington tilted to favor Baghdad over Tehran.
Aziz, whose been in prison since 2003 after surrendering to US forces,is frail, ill, and harmless, and he's someone who has a lot of history to tell. He can appeal his sentence, adn his execution can be avoided. But given Maliki's desperate scramble to hold onto his job, it's looking like Aziz will be a human sacrifice.