No end in sight for wave of terror in Iraq | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 13.08.2013
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Middle East

No end in sight for wave of terror in Iraq

Whether it's while shopping, in the café, or at the mosque: Terror meets Iraqis at every turn. Bombs have been exploding nearly daily for months - victims are mostly Shiites. Frustration is growing among the population.

Abu Samer has had enough. The 64-year-old has become desperate: "The situation in Iraq will never improve." Samer lives in Shaab, a Shiite-majority neighborhood in Baghdad's north. This past Saturday (10.08.2013), two car bombs exploded, killing eight. "I don't trust any of our politicians," Samer said. "They promise a lot, but the result of their politics is always terrorism."

Since the beginning of the year, violence has again seen a marked increase. This July alone, attacks killed more than 1,000 people, including many women and children. Perpetrators set off bombs at markets, restaurants and places of worship - or they carry out suicide attacks in parks or near playgrounds.

During the conclusion of Ramadan festivities in Baghdad on Saturday (10.08.2013), 16 bombs exploded in a single day. Most of the victims were of the Shiite majority.

Muslim against Muslim

Suspects linked to al Qaeda group wear overalls and masks at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (Photo: EPA/STR)

Some suspected al Qaeda fighters have been taken into custody

Sunni rebels are behind more of the attacks. Some groups target security forces, while others seem to not differentiate between civilians and security forces. The "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant," Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate, is particularly brutal. The group, in claiming responsibility for the Saturday attacks, said that Shiites should "not dream of security during night or day."

"Al Qaeda is the sharp end of the stick that is the violent rebellion of the Sunnis," said Guido Steinberg, an Iraq expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. He explained that the organization has recruited many new fighters over the past months.

Al Qaeda's goal here, he added, is to "spark a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites." The hoped-for end result would be the foundation of a Sunni-dominated state.

Al Qaeda, however, does not represent the entire Sunni population, Steinberg said. There are many Sunnis who peacefully oppose the policies of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

Power struggle in Baghdad

Iraqi walks Maliki campaign billboard in Baghdad (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen)

Maliki is increasingly accused of autocratic rule

The escalation of violence in Iraq has played out in the context of a long-simmering power struggle between Sunnis and Shiites. Maliki has attempted to establish a dictatorship - at the Sunnis' cost, Steinberg said.

"Sunnis are fighting against their exclusion," Steinberg said. Arabic Sunnis comprise about 20 percent of Iraq's population, he explained, while Shiites comprise about 60 percent.

When Maliki, who is a Shiite, came to power in 2006, he declared that his government would be non-sectarian. He was not supposed to select a cabinet on the basis of their religion or origin, Steinberg said.

However, over the years, Maliki became increasingly autocratic. Officially, the government is made up of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But Sunni representatives were systematically stripped of power, with critics legally persecuted.

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had to flee in 2011 after being accused of killing Shiite officials. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death.

Circle of violence

Maliki has violently repressed peaceful Sunni protests. Under his rule, the army killed more than 40 Sunni protesters in April 2013 clashes in the town of Hawija.

Sunni Muslims take part anti-government demonstration in Fallujah (Photo: REUTERS/Mohanned Faisal)

Peaceful anti-government protests in Fallujah

Human Rights Watch has criticized the "draconian" tactics of security forces. Suspects have been tortured, confessions forced, and convictions handed down based on testimony of secret witnesses. Suspected Sunni terrorists have been executed without public release of details on their alleged crimes.

Joe Storck, an Iraq expert with Human Rights Watch, said that human rights violations are being committed by Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and government security forces. Everyone is justifying their violence by pointing to violence of the other side, Storck said. And it's up to the government to stop this vicious cycle, he added.

Grim prospects

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But Steinberg doesn't see this happening. Rather, he thinks the government will try to "solve the problem with the standard method: brutal violence." He doesn't see the situation improving in Iraq in the coming years.

Steinberg does not believe that Maliki and his supporting Shiite political parties are willing to share power with Sunnis or secularly oriented powers. He added that United States' influence in the region has shrunk as neighboring Iran's has increased. And for Western actors to influence Iraq through Teheran is "not possible at the moment."

Samer is similarly pessimistic - he does not believe a quick end to the sectarian violence is in sight. Samer fears for the safety of his family in light of the nearly daily attacks in his hometown of Baghdad. He would prefer to send his children overseas, "away from everything happening here." That, however, is also a difficult prospect.

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