17 car bombs have recently struck streets and markets across Baghdad and southern Iraq, killing 60 people and injuring 176. The bombings, which appear to be co-ordinated, targeted towns and cities in the mainly Shia south. These attacks have escalated omnipresent fears of a return to civil war, as the bombings follow a recent spike in violence. It is believed that groups linked to Al-Qaeda are behind the latest attack, although no group has yet claimed responsibility.
July proved to be the bloodiest month this year, with an estimated 642 killed and 1,451 injured, a marked and alarming increase from June. Much of the violence has been perpetrated by Al-Qaeda, as well as local political parties who are attacking political rivals. It hard to discern the exact reason for the surge in violence, but it's clear there is a strong element of spillover violence from neighbouring Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki enjoys a close relationship with Syria's belligerent President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, warned earlier this month that that the battlefields in Iraq and Syria were merging. Speaking to the UN Security Council, Kobler said that "These countries are interrelated. Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq." Kobler also claimed that many Iraqi Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are now operating inside Syria.
However, Al-Qaeda affiliated groups have suffered a series of setbacks in Syria, which includes being expelled by Assad's forces and its allies from certain towns and villages. To counter these losses Al-Qaeda groups have attempted to ignite a wider regional sectarian war. Within Syria, Sunni Muslims who live near Homs and the border region with Lebanon have expressed "fears" that the al-Assad regime is attempting to cleanse them from the region. These fears were expressed after reports circulated that the Homs real-estate registry office had been burned down by the regime — destroying documents proving Sunni land ownership in the local areas. This has led to heightened regional tensions, which Al-Qaeda seeks to exploit and widen.
Al-Qaeda sees its fight as borderless and existential and its main goal remains to rally Sunnis, regardless of their national origins, into a perpetual fight against three main enemies: the West, Zionism, and the Shias, all of whom they regard as posing a threat to Al-Qaeda's continued existence specifically and the Sunni Muslim world generally. The Arab Spring and the Syrian crisis have strained inter-communal relations and the bombings could be part of an attempt to implode relations. Apart from apprehending the bombers, Iraqi politicians need to calm sectarian tensions and not allow local political parties to exploit it. Otherwise, instead of a civil war, we could be looking at a regional war, which would cause death and destruction beyond the unfathomable amount the Middle East has already seen.