On Monday, in a wave of bombing violence in Baghdad, Iraq, at least 51 people were killed and more than 160 others are wounded. The coordinated car bombings in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad mark an increase in the political and sectarian violence that has plagued Baghdad over the past several weeks. But why is the situation worsening?
The Baghdad bombings come on the heels of the United Nation’s mission to Iraq’s announcement that 712 people were violently killed in Iraq in April 2013, the highest death toll since the civil war that subsided five years ago. Moreover, more than 450 people have been killed due to violence in May, with most of these deaths happening over the last two weeks in the most sustained wave of violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the recent car bombs in Baghdad, which happened in various locations around the city including the open-air market of the al-Maalif area and in the busy commercial district of Sadoun Street.
CNN writer Shashank Joshi asserts that this trend towards “darker days” in Iraq is best understood as the product of three trends: the increasing authoritarianism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the rise of both peaceful and violent protest among the Sunni minority (which make up one-fifth of the Iraqi population), and increasing sectarian tensions between the Sunnis and the Shi’a muslims. Al-Maliki has undermined institutions such as the electoral commission and the central bank, institutions that are supposed to be independent, while also seizing personal control of key army and intelligence units, many of which are CIA-backed. Sunni protests have increased after the arrest of Sunni Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi in December 2012, and after Iraqi-backed helicopters killed dozens of peaceful protesters in the town of Hawijah on April 23. This has heightened sectarian tensions and lead to an increase in violence.
Another CNN writer, Arwa Damon, argues that there is a Syria connection, saying that the conflict in Syria is “adding fuel to an already burning fire.” This is because of the long-standing tribal ties between Iraq’s Sunnis and tribes in Syria, which feel that they are being suppressed by Shi’as in Iraq and in Syria. Damon argues that in some ways these conflicts are “proxy battlefields” for control between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shi’a majority Iran. The International Crisis Group also warns of an "emerging arc of instability linking Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, fueled by sectarianism and involving porous borders as well as cross-border alliances."
However, what is clear is that since the U.S. withdrawal of troops, sectarian violence in Iraq has increased with a vengeance, stirring fears of a renewed civil war. Whether this is a monster of our own making or a sleeping giant that has just awakened is debatable. However, the bigger question lies in the future of Iraq: will it spiral back into its dark days of civil war, carnage, and chaos, or will it be able to pull itself out of the recent violence and work towards a better society?