From: Inside Story

Has sectarian violence returned to Iraq?

After a spate of deadly attacks, we ask if there is enough political will to stop the violence.

Violence has returned to the streets of Iraq in one of the bloodiest weeks since the withdrawal of US troops in December.

For al-Qaeda to thrive in Iraq it’s only tool for advancement is when they inflame the sectarian divide between the Sunni and Shia, and they try to present themselves as the defender of the Sunnis.”

– Ghassan al-Attiyah, an Iraqi author and political analyst

On Saturday, at least 32 people were killed and dozens more injured in two bomb blasts in the capital, Baghdad.

That was the second attack on Shia pilgrims last week, after an al-Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for a series of car bombs that killed more than 70 people across the country.

These latest attacks are part of a worrying trend that has seen the revival of sectarian violence following the departure of US troops.

  • On January 5, four bombs in mainly Shia areas of Iraq killed at least 73 people and injured at least 150 more.
  • On January 14, another suicide bomber, dressed as a policeman this time, killed at least 53 people and injured 130 in an attack on Shia pilgrims at a police checkpoint in Basra.
  • On February 23, 10 explosions tore through Shia neighbourhoods in Iraq, killing 53 people.
  • On March 20, 30 explosions across the country killed at least 52 people and injured the same number.
  • On April 19, there were 20 more bombs across Iraq, killing 36 people and wounding another 150.
  • On May 31, six explosions hit neighbourhoods across Baghdad, killing at least 17 people.

The bombings in Baghdad have put the spotlight back on al-Qaeda in Iraq and its ability to coordinate large-scale attacks.

[The problem is] the lack of unity within Iraq. Whenever there is a lack of unity and coherence within the internal political scene the people behind these kinds of attacks find the best atmosphere to increase their operations.”

Mahjoob Zweiri, an assistant professor at Qatar University

The al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq, was weakened significantly by the long war with US and Iraqi security forces. But since the last US troops left in December, the group has carried out on average one major attack every month. Along with other Sunni groups, it relies on a strategy of striking Shia targets in a bid to stir up the kind of sectarian violence that drove Iraq to the brink of civil war between 2005 and 2007.

Security forces have also been targeted, creating a major headache for Iraqi officials as they try to scale back some of the measures that have made moving around Baghdad such a daily struggle.

In addition to this, there have also been repeated calls for a vote of no confidence against Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister.

Inside Story asks: Is there the political will to bring the violence under control? And how worrying a development is this for Iraq’s nascent democracy?

Joining presenter Kamahl Santamaria to discuss this are guests: Ghassan al-Attiyah, an Iraqi author and director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in Baghdad; Richard Weitz, the director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank; and Mahjoob Zweiri, an assistant professor in contemporary history and Middle East politics at Qatar University.

“One of the things the US occupation forces left behind was a constitution like in a Western democracy … [so] you got this incongruence between the political system which rejects having a Saddam-type leader and Iraqis who would like to have the kind of strong powers that he did.”

Richard Weitz, a military analyst