A NUMBER of Iraqi civil
servants from the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad sought shelter in
St George's Anglican Church last Thursday, during one of the most
sustained terrorist attacks on government buildings in recent
times. At least 22 people were killed, and scores were wounded.
Car bombs were detonated
outside the Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Communications
Ministries. Later, gunmen stormed the Ministry of Justice. In the
ensuing battle with security forces, a suicide-bomber blew himself
up. Further gunfire and explosions were heard - all in the vicinity
of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area where most government
offices and foreign embassies are located.
The Chaplain of St
George's, Canon Andrew White, described the bombings as "quite
unbelievable. So many were killed." Several of the Justice Ministry
staff "have taken refuge in the church here. The whole of Baghdad
has closed down. The sky is full of helicopters and black
The sharp increase in the
level of violence in Iraq coincides with the tenth anniversary of
the US-led invasion of the country. The perpetrators appear to be
Sunni extremists belonging to, or inspired by, al-Qaeda. Their
targets tend to be government offices or members of the security
forces. But the underlying theme is sectarian. The current Prime
Minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, is accused by many Iraqis
of marginalising the Sunni community.
But al-Qaeda has also
carried out numerous bombings in Shia civilian areas. For example,
on Tuesday, the day of the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq,
about 60 people were killed and at least three times that number
wounded in a series of co-ordinated bombings in Baghdad. Shia
neighbourhoods were hit during the morning rush-hour.
The continuing success of
the Sunni-dominated opposition forces in Syria appears to have
given new energy to al-Qaeda, at a time when politics in Iraq is
frozen by sectarian disputes. Relations between the Baghdad
government and that of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the
north are in crisis, while Sunni groups, with the support of the
Kurds, and even some Shia factions, are trying to force Mr Maliki
out of office.
There have been large
anti-government and anti-Shia demonstrations in recent weeks in the
largely Sunni-populated provinces of Anbar and Nineveh in the west.
In the light of these, the Iraqi government announced on Tuesday
that provincial elections in these two regions would be postponed
for six months. Elections elsewhere should go ahead as planned on
The sectarian trend in
Iraqi politics emerged from the political system set up by American
administrators after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. In
order to give all groups a share of power, it was agreed that the
president would be a Kurd (with Sunni and Shia deputies), the prime
minister a Shia (with Sunni and Kurdish deputies), and the speaker
of parliament a Sunni. But this arrangement has led to fierce
contests for control of senior positions among the sects.
Canon White, in an
article marking the tenth anniversary of the war, said that he had
warned the American administrators years ago that "we needed to
sort out religious issues, otherwise we would be faced with huge
religious sectarianism." But the warning was not heeded.
Canon White believes
that: "Religion has gone very wrong, and is used as the
justification for gaining power. . . If we had taken seriously the
issue of religion after the war, we would not be dealing with this
Canon White's article can be read in full on http://frrme.org/news/