Sunday 19 November 2017

Gunmen kill five in attack on aid office

Edgar Blayne in Baghdad

GUNMEN burst into a Baghdad office of an aid organisation yesterday and shot dead five people inside, Iraqi police said.

The attackers planted a bomb in the entrance to the office which exploded when security forces arrived, killing or wounding some of them, local Sunni neighbourhood guard chief Nabil al-Qaisi said.

No reason was immediately apparent for the attack in a predominantly Sunni area of the Iraqi capital. Police gave conflicting information about the NGO but local residents believed it was involved in distributing humanitarian aid.

Members of other aid groups operating in the area said no gunshots were heard, suggesting that silenced weapons were used. The neighbourhood was said to be once a bastion of al-Qa'ida.

Anger is simmering in Iraq's once dominant Sunni community over efforts by an independent panel to ban around 500 candidates from a March 7 general election because of alleged links to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party.

Many on the list are believed to be Sunni, triggering suspicions that the ban reflects an attempt by elements in the Shi'ite Muslim-led government to sideline Sunnis in the vote.

One of the few whose name has been made public is prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq. But the list also includes Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's defence minister.

The raging sectarian war between Sunnis and majority Shi'ites unleashed by the 2003 US invasion has largely subsided. But bomb attacks and assassinations remain a daily occurrence in much of the country.

Iraqi and US officials say they expect attacks to increase ahead of the election in March, which will be a test of Iraq's growing stability. In a separate development yesterday, the Syrian government accused Iraq of letting down its citizens by failing to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria.

"We find it strange that the Iraqi government is not doing its duty and is exercising every method to shy away from taking responsibility toward its nationals," Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad said.

Distrust

An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis fled Iraq after the 2003 US-led-invasion led to turmoil and sectarian conflict in their homeland. Most went to Syria, which received them despite its difficult relations with Iraq.

Iraq has invited refugees back, but offered only a few million of the €520m pledged by governments worldwide last year to help the refugees.

Political distrust between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had spent years in exile in Syria, and Syria's ruling apparatus has helped to make him wary of releasing funds to aid refugees in Syria.

Ties between the two countries worsened last year after Baghdad accused Damascus of complicity in bomb attacks that killed more than 200 people in Baghdad. Syria refused to hand over suspects.

Irish Independent

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