Two hundreds dead in less than a week are many even to the level of violence to which we are accustomed to see in Iraq. The tone of the last outbreak also raises concerns that it is not only a rise but a leap that would eventually plunge the battered country into civil war that threatens to be the worst since the U.S. invasion of 2003.
Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has recognized this danger, but rather than take a bold step towards reconciliation of the Shiite majority in the Sunni minority, whose sense of marginalization is at the root of the problem, he blames the messenger and ten television stations accuse him of encouraging sectarianism.
The coup de grace to a situation that was already delicate occurred last Tuesday when security forces took action against a camp of the Sunni Arab community in Hawija, about 200 kilometers north of Baghdad and near the city of Kirkuk.
The intervention left fifty people dead, which sparked a wave of reprisals in the five provinces where Sunni Arabs are more numerous and where since last December protest flourished against the central government, which they perceive as monopolized by the Shiites. As of this week, a total of 215 people have died, according to news agencies.
“This is the most serious and dangerous crises (…) since 1921,” said on Thursday Muafak to Rubaie, a former national security adviser, quoted by Agence France Presse. The League of Nations recognized Iraq as a state under the British mandate on November 11, 1920. Given the vicissitudes experienced by the country since then, it may seem exaggerated, but there is no doubt that “it has begun to creep dangerously towards a serious confrontation” as warned by the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The prime minister himself has warned of the risk of renewed “sectarian civil war” that bled Iraq between 2006 and 2007, when bombings and assassinations carried out by militias of both branches of Islam caused tens of thousands of deaths.
Security has improved since then, but tensions between Shiite and Sunni communities have not disappeared. The sectarian violence “has returned to Iraq because it started elsewhere in the region,” Maliki said Saturday in televised remarks that clearly pointed to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria.
ICG analysts admit that “the war in Syria also influences” the problem. Other observers believe that as the confrontation escalates, Iraqi Sunnis experience a growing solidarity with their brothers in faith and share feelings of hostility towards a course consisting of Hezbollah-Shiite axis in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran.
However, that is no excuse to ignore Maliki’s government founded complaints of the Sunnis. If you do not hurry to ensure adequate participation of the community in the political system, its leaders have a good excuse to align with the most radical, and even strengthen ties with regional actors who support the Syrian opposition.
Iraq suspended 10 television networks, including the controversial Al Jazeera, on the pretext that they were “inciting violence and sectarianism” which is not likely to solve the problem, even though most of them are local channels Sunni areas.