Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Baghdadis Crave Strong Leadership

Stable government seen as key to averting descent into civil war.
By Daud Salman
Baghdad residents are nervously waiting for the formation of a new government in the hope that it could end the sectarian violence that has exploded in the capital.

Though the government lifted its daytime curfew, few are venturing out on to the streets for fear of falling victim to the latest round of bloodletting.

Sunni and Shia mosques and neighbourhoods continued to be attacked by mortars and car bombs in tit-for-tat sectarian fighting that has continued since the bombing of al-Askari shrine in Samarra last week.

"The latest crisis has unravelled three years of work by the politicians," said Ziyad al-Daraji," a 22-year-old university student. "We are back to where we started."

The Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group, sharply criticised the government for failing to stop the violence that some believe has brought the country very close to civil war.

"It is clear that the government and its security forces are incapable of taking any action," said association spokesman Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi.

Religious and state leaders have called for calm, but many here say Iraq's lame-duck government is contributing to the problem, and that a stable authority was needed to bring the security situation under control.

"The acts of violence and terrible security situation after the Samarra bombing can be solved only with the quick formation of a national (emergency) government," said Thair Juma, a political analyst and director of the Protecting Public Properties non-governmental organisation in Baghdad. "That needs to be followed by at least a three-month period of martial law until the authorities are able to stabilise security."

But a new government looks unlikely to emerge anytime soon as President Jalal Talabani continues to spar with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'afari. Talabani has pushed Ja'afari to create a national unity government that includes all major parties, a proposal that Ja'afari and his United Iraqi Alliance, which holds the highest number of seats in parliament, has rejected.

Ja'afari made a provocative visit to Turkey this week without consulting Talabani, who is Kurdish. Turkey has been widely condemned for discriminating against Kurds.

Some believe that even if a stable government emerges, the violence will continue.

Ahmed Saleh, a 52-year-old professor at Baghdad University, said, “If they reach a political agreement, there are those who will try to create trouble between the different sects and ethnicities."

The government issued a statement announcing that 379 people had been killed and 458 wounded as of February 28 in violence sparked by the Samarra bombing. At least 30 were killed on March 1, the Associated Press reported.

Baghdad is still under an 8pm to 6am curfew, and many residents are staying at home during the day. Most shops continue to be closed, and the city's more volatile neighbourhoods are virtually devoid of life by the afternoon.

Many schools, government offices and ministries are still shut. The ministry of education issued an order exempting the children of top officials or threatened families from attending school daily, saying they only have to take their final exams.

Some residents said they preferred Baghdad under curfew, even though it made it difficult to shop for food and supplies or seek medical care. They expressed concern that the capital was spiralling out of control and that security by Iraqi and US troops was not tight enough.

Haider Shneshil, a 58-year-old real estate agent, said, “The government lifted the curfew in Baghdad too soon," he said. "It's better to put a tighter security lock."

Daud Salman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad. IWPR trainee journalist Safaa Mansour contributed to this report.

More IWPR's Global Voices