NSN Iraq Daily Update 3/18/08

03/18/2008 11:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Bombing kills 43 in Shi'a holy city. A bombing on Monday evening killed 43 people near the Imam Hussein shrine in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, penetrating one of the most secure perimeters in Iraq. Iraqi police officers at the scene and several witnesses said a suicide bomber carried out the attack, but the police chief later said the bomb had been hidden. The conflicting versions could not be reconciled. But if the accounts of other policemen and witnesses are correct, it would be one of the most devastating suicide bombings carried out by a woman. Abdul al-Yassiri, the leader of the provincial council in Karbala, said the final toll was 43 dead and 73 wounded, including 8 Iranians. [NY Times, 3/18/08]


Vice President Dick Cheney met with Iraqi and American leaders in Baghdad yesterday. Arriving on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the war, the vice president strove to label the invasion and occupation a success. "If you reflect back on those five years, I think it's been a difficult, challenging, but nonetheless successful endeavor," he said in Baghdad, adding that "it's been well worth the effort." Mr. Cheney signaled that a large reduction in troop levels was unlikely anytime soon. "It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy," he said. "And I don't think we'll do that." [NY Times, 3/18/08]


Sunni bloc boycotts Iraq unity conference, highlighting deep divisions. Iraq's main Sunni parliamentary bloc boycotted a crucial national reconciliation conference that opened on Tuesday. The two-day conference is being held ahead of Thursday's fifth anniversary of the launch of the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003 amid international concern that insufficient progress has been made on the path to reconciliation. However, the main Sunni bloc in the parliament, the National Concord Front, boycotted the gathering. The bloc was also protesting at the way Iraq handled the case of a former deputy minister who was acquitted on allegations of running Shiite death squads that killed Sunni Arabs. Maliki's Shiite-led government has come under mounting pressure from both the United States and the United Nations to show a greater sense of urgencyUN envoy Staffan de Mistura urged Iraqi leaders to seize the chance for reconciliation before it was too late. "This is the window of opportunity for Iraq... It does not last long," he warned. [AFP, 3/18/08]


Over the past 10 days, violence has tested the militia's cease-fire, which many say has contributed to a drop in US and Iraqi casualties. A March 8th gun battle in Sadr City between Shi'a militiamen and the Iraqi Army lasted only 10 minutes, but 18 soldiers were captured. The next day, the men were freed, but about 10 rifles are missing. Gen. Naseer al-Abadi, deputy chief of staff of Iraq's armed forces says, "There is a big investigation... this is very serious," said General Abadi. "We will not tolerate anyone losing an M16." He says the soldiers are now in jail pending the investigation. A series of violent incidents have followed the Sadr City incident in predominantly Shi'a areas in where the Mahdi Army has great influence. Clashes between militiamen and the police in the city of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, since Tuesday have left at least 13 people dead including two policemen, according to local authorities quoted by Reuters adding that nearly 70 militia members were also detained. Abadi says the militiamen appear to want revenge for the relentless raids and arrests carried out by the US and Iraqi forces against many elements of the Mahdi Army. [CS Monitor, 3/17/08]


An increase in Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 has contributed to the reversal of a five-year downward trend in asylum applications to developed countries. More than 45,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in 2007, up from 22,900 in 2006, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. The most popular destination for asylum seekers of all nationalities in 2007 was the US, with an estimated 49,200 new asylum claims - accounting for 15% of all applications. Some 4.5 million Iraqis have been uprooted by war. More than 2.5 million people are displaced within Iraq, while two million others have moved to neighboring countries not included in the new report, such as Syria and Jordan. [BBC, 3/18/08]


Christians continue to face persecution. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is thought to be the highest-ranking Chaldean Catholic clergyman to be killed in the violence in Iraq. He was the Archbishop of Mosul, which, along with Baghdad, has been one of the worst places for attacks on Christians. The Barnabas Fund, a charity in the UK that has tried to help Iraqi Christians, says there have been some very nasty cases of Christians being abducted, tortured and then killed and it says many Christians in Iraq are now deadened to the violence. According to the charity, one of its partners in Iraq conducted research into 250 Iraqi Christians displaced to the north of the country a year ago and found nearly half had witnessed attacks on churches or Christians, or been personally targeted by violence. It is thought about half the Christian population of Iraq has moved - the majority to Syria, fewer to Jordan and some to northern Iraq. [BBC, 3/14/08]