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Iraq: Violence Soars As Political Crisis Paralyzes Nation

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By Charles Recknagel for RFE/RL

Violence is increasing as Iraq goes through its worst crisis since U.S. troops left in mid-December.

The latest: A suicide car bombing which killed at least 31 people in Baghdad on January 27 at a Shi’ite funeral procession.

It’s part of a wave of attacks that have killed more than 340 people over the past 30 days.

That’s a death toll almost 50 percent higher than the average monthly figure last year.

Many see the escalating violence as part and parcel of political feuding in Baghdad.

The feuding pits Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government against the largest Sunni-backed political bloc. And it’s giving insurgents new incentives to carry out attacks.

​​The insurgents’ goal appears to be to stoke hatred between Shi’ite and Sunni extremists and try to gain strength in the chaos.

Paralyzed By Divisions

Iraq has been there before. It reached the brink of a civil war that was averted only by a surge of U.S. troops in 2007.

Today, the Iraqi government is on its own. But despite the mounting danger, it is paralyzed by its divisions.

The country’s largest Sunni bloc, Al-Iraqiyah, is in open revolt against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose ruling coalition is dominated by Shi’ite religious parties.

The leader of Al-Iraqiyah, Iyad Allawi, demands Maliki call early parliamentary elections or step down.

“[The options are to] form a new government to prepare for early elections, or the National Alliance (Shi’ite bloc) names a new prime minister who is able and qualified to manage the affairs of the country, or to form a government of national partnership based on a real, full implementation of [previous agreements],” Allawi said.

Behind the crisis is a collapse of trust that became dramatically public days after the last U.S. troops left.

Maliki accused a prominent Al-Iraqiyah member — who is also one of Iraq’s three vice presidents — of using his bodyguards to assassinate political rivals.

Faced with arrest, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi fled Baghdad and took shelter in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. There he accused Maliki of trying to “do everything he can to consolidate power in the executive body.”

Now, with Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite blocs showing no signs of backing down, it is a showdown with no end in sight.

But one thing is clear. Unless Iraq’s politicians can rise to the challenge of working together, the violence is almost certain to grow worse.

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