Iraq sliding towards civil war

Time reports: Early Monday morning, more than a dozen car bombs ripped through mostly Shi‘ite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 50 people and leaving dozens lying bloodied in the streets. The worst attack that day was in heavily Shi‘ite Sadr City, where a man parked a white car near an area where day laborers gather; a bomb inside erupted, killing seven people and wounding 16.

Such reports have become commonplace over the past few months, as violence in Iraq has escalated to levels unfathomable in almost any other country, and by any metric — death tolls, frequency, geographic distribution — it’s becoming worse. For decades, the Baath Party of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, composed mostly of secular Sunnis, ruled Iraq’s majority Shi‘ite population and ruthlessly kept a lid on sectarian tensions. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion overturned the Saddam regime, Shi‘ites controlled the new government. This year, violence in Iraq has been largely the result of a Sunni bombing campaign aimed at the Shi‘ite-dominated political status quo. The civil war in neighboring Syria — itself a volatile, sectarian conflict — has spilled across the border, and Sunni jihadi factions are operating in both countries. Now, four months before the next parliamentary elections, Iraq increasingly appears to be spiraling toward a civil war.

Since 2006, when Iraq then under U.S. occupation convulsed in sectarian bloodshed, violence has been driven mainly by internal divisions, and after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011, the Shi‘ite-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been unable to stop the killing. “The struggle for power is not conducted along neat Shia versus Sunni or Islamist versus secular dividing lines,” a May report by British think tank Chatham House explained. “However, issues of identity, rights and interests have often found sectarian expression in periods of upheaval and transition.”

It’s spreading as well. Until this weekend, much of the violence has occurred in Baghdad and its environs, largely sparing Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in the north. For most of the past decade, Iraq’s Kurdish region has been immune to the bloodshed. When American troops occupied Iraq, no American soldiers were killed there. But this weekend, as the results of the region’s parliamentary elections were announced, suicide bombers in the Kurdish capital Erbil attacked a building housing the Kurdish security forces, setting off gunfights in the streets. According to the regional government, six attackers and six members of the security forces were killed.

Iraq’s tumultuous year began when the Shi‘ite-dominated government’s security forces raided the home of Sunni Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi, touching off antigovernment protests in several provinces. In April, security forces clashed with protesters and Sunni gunmen in the northern city of Hawija, leaving dozens of mostly Sunnis dead. More than 700 people were killed in April alone.

Attacks then picked up in the spring and summer. According to the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, more than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in July, the deadliest month in the country since sectarian violence peaked in 2006 and ’07. More than 800 were killed in August, and the U.N. estimates that nearly 1,000 were killed in September. Since the April protests began, more than 5,000 Iraqis have been killed in the violence. [Continue reading…]

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