The United Nations has warned that armed groups are increasingly forging links across the border of Syria and Iraq, fuelling sectarian tensions in a region that has suffered from years of bloodshed.
Speaking at the UN Security Council, the special envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said the conflict in Syria was “affording terrorist networks the occasion to forge links across the [Iraq-Syria] border and expand their support base”.
He said the combination of a divided leadership in Iraq, unresolved constitutional issues between communities and the growing threat coming from Syria had created a “fragile and explosive” situation.
Mladenov insisted the only way the violence could stop was through a political process that would bridge differences, increase development and make the government more inclusive.
“You cannot resolve the problem of violence of terrorism simply by security measures,” he said.
“You need to look at the inclusion of communities and decision making. You need to look at the economic development and the protection of human rights, the rule of law.”
A nation divided
Sunnis in Iraq have been staging protests against the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, over what they consider second class treatment of their community, since late last year.
The demonstrations have tapped into longstanding grievances of Sunnis, who say they are marginalised by the Shia-led government and unfairly targeted with heavy-handed tactics by security forces.
Clashes between the security forces and Sunni tribesmen in the Anbar province have displaced more than 400,000 people according to the UN, after fighters took control of the main city of Fallujah in December.
Tensions among the country’s communities and the conflict in neighbouring Syria are said to be fuelling the sectarian divide, creating “a fragile and explosive combination,” according to Mladenov.
Baghdad has blamed support for groups fighting in Syria’s civil war for inflaming tensions in Iraq, with weapons ending up in the hands of armed groups.
Last year, Maliki warned that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war would spark a sectarian war in Iraq, Lebanon and division in Jordan.