First Published: 2013-08-01

 

Back to square one in Iraq: Sectarian violence returns to previous high levels

 

UN envoy repeats his urgent call on Iraq political leaders to take ‘immediate and decisive action’ to stop bloodshed.

 

Middle East Online

By W.G. Dunlop – BAGHDAD

Worsening security situation

Violence in Iraq, from bombings against cafes to assaults on prisons, killed about 1,000 people in July, more than any month since 2008, when the country was emerging from a bloody sectarian conflict.

"We haven't seen such numbers in more than five years, when the blind rage of sectarian strife that inflicted such deep wounds upon this country was finally abating," UN envoy Gyorgy Busztin said in a statement.

Iraq was racked by a bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict that peaked in 2006-2007, when thousands of people were killed because of their religious affiliation or forced to abandon their homes under threat of death.

"I reiterate my urgent call on Iraq's political leaders to take immediate and decisive action to stop the senseless bloodshed, and to prevent these dark days from returning," Busztin said.

According to Iraqi government figures, 989 people were killed in July, making it the deadliest month since April 2008.

The vast majority of the dead were civilians, though Iraqi security forces were also targeted in attacks.

The United Nations put the toll for July at 1,057 people killed.

Tolls vary depending on sources and methodology, and officials in Iraq often give differing numbers in the chaotic aftermath of attacks.

But all show that the security situation in Iraq is worsening.

Illustrating the severity of the violence, UN figures show more than twice as many civilians were killed in Iraq during the first six months of 2013 than over the same period in Afghanistan.

In one of the month's deadliest attacks, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a cafe in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing 41 people.

Militants regularly targeted cafes, where Iraqis often meet after breaking their daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and also attacked mosques, where extended evening prayers are held during the month.

Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed attacks on Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in July that killed over 50 people and saw more than 500 inmates, including senior Al-Qaeda leaders, escape.

"The prison attacks demonstrate that the security forces are poorly resourced and unable to protect what should have been well-defended facilities," said John Drake, an Iraq specialist with risk management firm AKE Group.

And in an incident reminiscent of the worst years of sectarian conflict in Iraq, militants set up a checkpoint on a highway north of Baghdad, examined the ID cards of truck drivers and then executed 14 who were Shiite Muslims.

"We don't go out of the house anymore. You go to the cafe, you get killed, you go to your car, you get killed, you go to the supermarket, you get killed," 47-year-old Imad said in the Iraqi capital.

Officials should "fix politics so security gets better, but (a) political solution in this country needs a miracle," he said.

Widespread discontent among members of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority is a major factor behind the heightened violence this year, experts say.

"There is widespread frustration with the predominantly Shiite government and security forces amongst the Sunni community, because they feel marginalised and persecuted," said Drake.

"The terrorists, most of whom are radicalised Sunnis, are conducting attacks against the government and security forces to try and capitalise on this frustration," he said.

"Animosity towards the government is also likely to persist as long as the security forces use excessive force to arrest suspects and deal with protests in predominantly Sunni parts of the country," Drake said.

Protests broke out in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq at the end of 2012, and are still ongoing.

International Crisis Group Iraq analyst Maria Fantappie said an April 23 security forces operation at a protest camp near the town of Hawijah, which sparked clashes that killed dozens, was a key factor in the unrest.

"I think that it's very important to see Hawijah as the turning point for the violence," Fantappie said.

The incident triggered the reactivation of some insurgent groups in the north and also corresponded to increasing Al-Qaeda activity and sectarian attacks -- three main factors driving the heightened violence, she said.

It is ultimately up to the government to act to curb the violence, she said, with negotiating local ceasefires with Sunni officials being one option.

The government "was part of the problem, and it is part of the solution," Fantappie said. "It's the only actor that can bring things (back) on track."

 

UN council votes to bring back full Western Sahara mission

UN rights chief calls Syrian crisis 'shameful realpolitik'

Air strike hits clinic in rebel-held Aleppo

South Sudan unveils unity government

Aleppo mourns paediatrician killed in air strike

US, Russia 'agree freeze' on two Syrian fronts

Libya unity government vows to end jihadist 'scourge'

Turkey demands 5 years jail for UK academic over 'terror propaganda'

UK pair accused of giving money to Brussels, Paris attacks suspect

Turkey says Bursa bomber linked to PKK

Kuwait steps up deportations of expat workers

Iranians vote in second round of parliamentary elections

Palestinians support, Israel opposes French peace initiative

Biden in surprise Iraq visit to support embattled government

MSF condemns strike on Aleppo hospital

Lifeline to millions in Syria 'may be broken' as violence intensifies

Turkish journalists get two years for publishing Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Greece making 'incredible effort' to tackle migration issue

Iraq shuts Al-Jazeera bureau for 'instigating violence and sectarianism'

Syria regime readies for major Aleppo offensive

Israel nuclear reactor defects spark secrecy dilemma

Suicide bomber targets Aden police chief

Death toll in Syria's Aleppo rises despite UN truce plea

Italy to introduce migrant fingerprinting at sea

UN envoy plans to hold another round of Syria peace talks

US proposes full restoration of Western Sahara mission

27 Yemeni soldiers dead in key offensive

Global press freedom drops to lowest level in 12 years

Constitutional amendment grants Jordan king more powers

Suicide bomber blows herself up in Turkey northwestern city

Austria adopts one of EU's toughest asylum laws

Netherlands warns no safety 'guarantees' for visitors to Turkey

Battered Aleppo residents ask: Where is Syria ceasefire?

Libya kidnappers release Serbian worker

Sinai bombing kills three Egypt policemen

UAE considers tough safety code after skyscraper fires

UNESCO says Palmyra retains 'authenticity' despite damage

Khamenei says US 'fomenting Iranophobia'

Russia applauds cooperation with US on Syria

Etihad Airways sees $103 million profit in 2015

Russia asks UN to list Syria rebel group as 'terrorist'

2 Palestinians shot dead at checkpoint

Turkey PM pledges draft constitution will guarantee secularism

Greece returns 49 migrants to Turkey

Nearly quarter of Iran's parliament seats at stake in election run-off