US monthly casualties third lowest since Iraq invasion
AT LEAST 29 US troops died in Iraq in February, the third-lowest monthly casualty toll for the US military since the American-British invasion in 2003. Troop fatalities declined from 40 in January, and from 81 in February 2007.
However, while the level of Iraqi casualties has gone down sharply from a year ago, 739 Iraqi security forces and civilians were either killed or found dead last month, up from 610 in January – which had the lowest monthly death toll since the end of 2005. In February 2007, at least 1,801 Iraqis were killed.
The increase in Iraqi casualties compared with January sparked fears of an upsurge in violence. Even the news that former Saddam henchman Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", is to be executed within the month has done little to reassure civilians.
Vulnerable minorities, especially in the north, are particularly concerned at the continued targeting of high-profile non-Sunnis by al-Qaeda. The kidnapping of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul on Friday, in which his driver and two guards were gunned down, has created a climate of fear, say police.
In Rome, Pope Benedict deplored the kidnapping of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho as a "despicable" crime and urged the gunmen to free the prelate. Rahho was kidnapped in the al-Nour district in eastern Mosul when he left a church.
US and Iraqi officials say that Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, remains the last urban stronghold of al-Qaeda, which they call the biggest threat to the country's security.
Rahho is an assistant to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad and leader of Iraq's Catholics – a 550,000-strong branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practises an ancient Eastern rite. Most of its members are in Iraq and Syria, and they form the biggest Christian community in Iraq. Christians make up about 3% of Iraq's mostly Muslim population of 27 million. A census in 1987 put the number of Christian Iraqis at 1.4 million, but today the figure is thought to be less than one million.
In a statement about the Rahho kidnapping, the Vatican said the Pope was saddened by what it called a premeditated criminal act. "The Holy Father asks the universal Church to join in his fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevail in the kidnappers and Monsignor Rahho is returned to his flock soon," the statement said.
A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped or killed, and churches bombed, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Last June, gunmen shot dead Catholic priest Ragheed Aziz Kani and three assistants in Mosul, which is 240 miles north of Baghdad, after stopping his car near a church in the eastern part of the ethnically and religiously mixed city.
A former Archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, was kidnapped at gunpoint in 2005, but was released after one day of captivity and said no ransom was paid.
Marc Stenger, Bishop of Troyes in France and president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, said he had met Rahho with a multi-denominational delegation near Mosul this month.
"He didn't want the meeting to take place in the city but outside, because he knew it was dangerous," Stenger said. "He is a man who likes to make jokes and he joked about the danger, but this was really a sign of great tension." He said that "prospects are not cheerful" for Iraq's Christian community.
However, while Mosul remains a hotbed of activity, Turkey's decision to end its pursuit of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq has helped defuse tensions. Turkey pulled its troops out on Friday, ending a major offensive that Washington had feared might destabilise the region.
Yasar Buyukanit, head of Turkey's military general staff, said that the decision to pull out was taken because there was no need to continue the ground operation. "If they say that the army withdrew early, then let them go there and stay for 24 hours," Buyukanit said, referring to the deep snow and sub-zero temperatures in the tough mountainous terrain where the troops were fighting.
Buyukanit denied any foreign influence on the decision, which came just one day after George Bush urged a swift end to the offensive. He hailed the eight-day operation as a success, claiming the army killed 242 out of 300 targets and cut PKK communications.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North