BAGHDAD — Iraqi politicians from across the ethnic and religious spectrum agree that the recent wave of attacks targeting Shia Iraqis appears to be a deliberate move by extremists to reignite the sectarian conflict of past years.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant group affiliated to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for most of the bombings that have left more than 150 people dead since the beginning of June.
The carnage began on June 4, with 24 dead and more than 120 injured when a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at the Baghdad headquarters of the Shia Endowment, a group that manages religious sites across Iraq.
On June 13, about 75 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a string of attacks across the country. Once again, most of the casualties were Shia Muslims.
The Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement describing this attack as “blessed Wednesday’s battle,” a “response to the crimes of the Shia government,” and a blow “in support of Sunni prisoners.”
Two car bombings in Baghdad on June 16 left 32 dead and at least 60 injured. This time, the victims were pilgrims marking the anniversary of the death of Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh of the Twelve Imams of Shia Islam.
Then, two days later, a suicide bomber detonated his charges among the crowd at a Shia funeral in Baquba in central Iraq, killing 25 people and injuring 40.
Iraq’s mainstream political groupings – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – agree about the objective of the bombings.
Maysun al-Damaloji, a spokesman for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, described the attacks as “designed to sow ‘fitnah’ (discord) among Iraqis, especially since it coincided with the Imam Musa al-Kadhim pilgrimage.” A spokesman for the Kurdish Alliance, Moayyad al-Tayyib, agreed, saying, “We strongly condemn the bombings that targeted innocent civilians. We hold the security authorities partly responsible.”
Ali Shubbar, a Shia member of parliament, agreed that the bombings were intended as an incitement to sectarian conflict. “The terrorists are trying to play a vicious game by using sectarianism as an instrument to achieve their plans, and by sowing hatred among Iraqis.”
Osama Murtadha, a Baghdad-based analyst, believes the unresolved disputes among the country’s leading politicians have fostered an environment that makes sectarian violence possible.
“In an atmosphere in which Shia and Sunni politicians fight each other … sectarian conflict looks very likely,” he said.
Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties have been locked in dispute since December 2011 when the last American troops left Iraq. Power-sharing arrangements wore thin after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the most senior Sunni Arab politician in the country, on terrorism charges.
As the dispute continues, Kurds have joined forces with Maliki’s political rivals to accuse him of autocratic methods. The prime minister could yet face a vote of no confidence in parliament.
“This country’s leaders need to become aware of what’s going on in their homeland before time runs out.”
By Murtadha Abeer Mohammed
Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Murtadha Abeer Mohammed is the Iraq editor for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.