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Iraq descends into civil war again

By Missing Peace
People gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, May 16. Photo APPeople gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, May 16.
Photo AP

In an article about the situation in Iraq from January 2012 we wrote the following:

At present, not much is needed to ignite a larger conflict (similar to the events of 2006-2007) which could boil over into a civil war.

Since the US troops left Iraq in December 2011, terrorist attacks have increased significantly. For example, three days after the issue of the arrest warrant for al-Hashimi sixteen simultaneous explosions rocked Bagdad’s Shiite areas, leaving scores of civilians dead.

All this is clearly embarrassing for the Obama administration. In a speech on the eve of the departure of the last US forces the US president said: “We are leaving behind a stable country”.

However, it is now clear that Iraq is far from stable; the situation could even deteriorate into civil war.

At the end of December 2011, three Iraqi politicians, among them former PM Ayad Allawi, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Iraq is ‘doomed’ if the US does not interfere and rein in al-Maliki. But Obama has made clear he will not do such a thing; instead he has pushed for negotiations to salvage the unity government.

Last Sunday, US minister of defense Panetta said: “We’re confident that we have an Iraqi government and an Iraqi security force that is capable of dealing with the security threats that are there now”.

But Senator John McCain disagreed:

“With all due respect, Iraq is unraveling. It’s unraveling because we did not keep residual forces there”.

With 257 civilians killed since the beginning of January, it seems as though McCain and Allawi are right.

Almost nine years after the US and its allies invaded the country to topple Saddam Hussein and to establish democracy, Iraq seems to be back to square one.

It is now August 2013 and today the Jordan Times published a Reuters report titled :

Cafes shut, sports fields empty as war returns to Iraq

War has indeed returned to Iraq.

Since the beginning of this year more than 4000 Iraqis were killed by a wave of violence not seen since the insurgency that followed operation “Iraqi Freedom”.

In July alone more than 1000 people were killed the highest monthly death toll since 2008.

The increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq is a direct result of the wider Shia-Sunni conflict that wrecked Syria and destabilized Lebanon. In both countries Sunni Islamists lead by Al Qaida are fighting against Iranian backed Shiite militias (Al Quds force and Hezbollah) and their allies (Syrian army).

Iraqi religious leaders of both suasions have repeatedly called upon their supporters  to take up arms alongside their brethren—Shiites to aid Bashar al-Assad’s army, Sunnis to help the resistance.

This has radicalized the sects at home, hardening their identity as Shiites or Sunnis and softening their allegiance to the increasingly abstract concept of a unified Iraq.

Below are excerpts from the Reuters report:

H/T  IMRA

Iraqis have endured extreme violence for years,
but since the start of 2013 the intensity of attacks on civilians has
dramatically increased, reversing a trend that had seen the country grow
more peaceful.

Attacks have spread to some of the few places left for public entertainment,
turning Baghdad into a giant fortified prison of concrete blast walls, where
once again few now dare to socialise in public.

The attacks have raised fears of a return to full-blown sectarian conflict
in a country where ruling Shiites and minority Sunni Muslims and Kurds have
yet to find a stable way of sharing power.

More than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in July, the highest monthly death toll
since 2008, the United Nations said last week.

The past four months have all had higher death tolls than any in the five
years before April, leading the interior ministry to declare last week that
Iraq was now once again in “open war”, 18 months after US troops pulled out.

Most of the violence has been perpetrated by the Iraqi wing of Al Qaeda, the
strict Sunni Muslim jihadi group which was defeated by US forces and their
allies in 2006-2007 but has been reborn this year to battle the Shiite-led
government.

.  .  .  Sectarian tensions have also escalated as a result of the civil war
in neighbouring Syria, where Iraq’s Al Qaeda branch has merged with a
powerful Sunni Islamist rebel force fighting to overthrow a leader backed by
Shiite Iran.

“Insurgents now are changing rules of the game,” said Ali Al Bahadli, a
former Iraqi army general and military analyst who works as an adviser to
the ministry of defence.

“With the recent attacks of cafes and football pitches, the message is
directed at civilians is that security forces are unable to protect you.”

Cafes close doors

Security analysts say the Sunni insurgents are targeting cafes and football
pitches as a way to undermine the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister
Nouri Maliki, wrecking its claims to have restored normal life after a
decade of war.

Recent bombings have targeted men playing in local soccer fixtures and
watching matches, after spates of attacks on Sunni and Shiite mosques,
markets and the security forces. According to figures from the interior
ministry, around 37 cafיs across Iraq have been attacked since April.

People have begun to avoid public places like cafes and busy markets,
fearing from bombs and suicide attacks. After an easing of violence in the
past few years led places to reopen, many cafes have now closed again after
losing customers.

.  .  .

“With more security measures cutting Baghdad into pieces, attacks on cafes,
mosques and sport areas, we feel we’re living deadlocked inside homes,” said
ceramics artist Mahir Samarrai, who used to haunt the cafes in eastern
Baghdad, where men sip strong coffee, puff on water pipes and discuss the
day.

Amateur football players are also targets, with dozens killed in recent
months.

The interior ministry has stepped up security near football pitches, cafes
and mosques to try to prevent more attacks.

The cafes are not only targeted by the bombs of the Sunni insurgency, but
are also under pressure from smaller hardline Shiite militias, who try to
close them by force.

The Shiite militias, who warn of practices they see as going against their
strict interpretation of Islam, were also behind a campaign targeting
alcohol sellers in Baghdad which killed 12 people in May.

The militias have been emboldened by the success of Shiite religious parties
which have risen in power since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

”. Prime Minister Maliki .  .  .“The government will not tolerate militias
and gangs that violate freedom of people in order to impose their corrupted
opinions under various pretexts,” he said on his website.