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U.S. occupation stoked sectarian violence
Death toll mounting in Iraq

By Elizabeth Schulte | July 28, 2006 | Page 6

A HUNDRED people a day. That is the number of Iraqi civilians killed on average over the last two months, according to a United Nations (UN) report released July 18. Violence has reached the highest level since the U.S. invasion in 2003, with some 6,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the months of May and June.

According to report from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, "A total of 5,818 civilians were reportedly killed and at least 5,762 wounded during May and June 2006." From January to June, the monthly death toll leapt more than 77 percent--from 1,778 to 3,149, bringing total deaths since January at 14,000.

The lion's share of the deaths are taking place in Baghdad. On July 23, a car bomb killed at least 37 people and injured dozens in a crowded shopping area of Baghdad's largely Shiite Sadr City. The same day, another 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the fourth car bombing of the month in the northern city of Kirkuk.

"[S]ectarian massacres have started to take place on an almost daily basis, leading observers to fear a level of killing approaching that of Rwanda immediately before the genocide of 1994," wrote journalist Patrick Cockburn earlier this month in the British Independent newspaper. "On a single spot on the west bank of the Tigris River in north Baghdad, between 10 and 12 bodies have been drifting ashore every day."

But, Cockburn wrote on July 22, "Sectarian slaughter is not the only way to die in Iraq. Yesterday, U.S. troops killed five people, including two women and a child, in the city of Baquba during a raid, claiming they had been shot at.

"At best, it was a tragic error; at worst, it spoke to the cavalier attitude of the U.S. towards Iraqi civilian lives. Local police said that a man had fired from a rooftop at the Americans because he thought a hostile militia force was approaching."

Last week, during the military trial of four U.S. Army soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqis in May, lawyers said that the soldiers were under orders from two senior officers to "kill all military-age males." After the soldiers took the three Iraqis prisoner during a raid in a desert area in western Iraq, a sergeant reportedly told them, "Why did you take them prisoner? Why didn't you kill them?"

The soldiers are among 16 U.S. service members who've been charged with murder in Iraq in the last two months.

Despite the fact that the U.S. presence has stoked more violence in Baghdad, the Bush administration is considering diverting troops from other parts of the country to the capital. During a trip to Baghdad last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Pentagon had already increased the number of troops in Baghdad from 40,000 to 55,000.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki will meet with Bush in Washington at the end of July.

Earlier in the month, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was elected to the Iraqi parliament in April, called the U.S. occupation "butcher's work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice" and offered this solution: "Just get your hands off Iraq and the Iraqi people and Muslim countries, and everything will be all right."

The sentiment that U.S. troops are part of the problem was shared by Sunni and Shiite Muslims alike in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. "People don't like the Americans anymore," Nawar Abbas, a 24-year-old computer engineer and a Sunni, told the Times. "They have a bad image of them, and I don't think it will change."

As Michael Schwartz, who has written extensively on the Iraq occupation, argued recently, "All this talk of 'civil war' is actually about the fact that the U.S. has made its choice, and that--in most circumstances--it is commanding, encouraging and facilitating sectarian warfare as a way of suppressing the resistance against the U.S. occupation."

The U.S. has fed the conflict among religious and ethnic groups in Iraq. And every day of sectarian violence is another day that the U.S. government can say it will "see this thing through."

The longer that the U.S. occupies Iraq, the greater the potential for a long and bloody civil war. The immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. and all foreign troops is the only hope for peace in Iraq.

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