In her final column for the term, Online Features Columnist Thea Osborne discusses the current dire state of affairs left behind in Iraq.
Sectarian violence within Iraq is becoming an almost daily event, to the extent where news channels seem to have become desensitised to the latest car bomb or suicide attack. Violence has reached the worst levels it has been in years; the monthly death toll did drop in November but it is still terrifyingly high with 659 dead, at least 80 per cent of whom were civilians. 7,150 civilians have been killed since January this year, the highest annual toll since 2008. On Sunday at least 39 people were reported to have been killed by over nine explosions in and around Baghdad, predominantly in Shia Muslim areas. The bombs targeted crowded commercial areas and marketplaces. The roots of the violence are based along complex sectarian divides and rivalries and are slowly turning the whole of Iraq into a violent crisis zone with little clear leadership and even less everyday safety.
The three largest demographics within Iraq are Arab Sunnis, Arab Shia and the Kurds; each is desperate to stake a claim to the future Iraq and ensure that their interests are considered. The Kurds in the north were brutally oppressed under Saddam Hussein and are now determined to settle for little less than their own autonomous state. The rivalry between the Shia and Sunni is what has been the cause of the majority of the recent violence within the country. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim and despite only making up 35 per cent of the population favoured fellow Sunnis over the majority Shia population. Perhaps understandably there has been a lot of backlash from the previously suppressed Shia majority since his downfall. This has then created a vicious cycle of attack and counter-attack which has reached particularly awful heights in the last year. The latest ongoing wave of violence started as a response to a crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in April and has reached heights only previously seen when the country teetered on the brinks of civil war in 2007.
The Shia-led Iraqi government is under pressure to restore control and is attempting to bring in new safety measures in order to curtail the rising violence as Iraqi citizens are increasingly concerned that it could spill over into a full blown sectarian conflict. Bombings in crowded areas, particularly cafés, bus stations and restaurants have become part of everyday life – citizens are feeling increasingly unsafe as more and more civilians are randomly targeted. At the beginning of the year attacks were generally focused upon security and military targets but they have become increasingly unpredictable. Responsibility is usually unclaimed for attacks but different methods tend to indicate different groups; suicide bombings are generally being carried out by Al-Qaeda associates and roadside bombings by Shia extremists. Those carrying out the violence and sanctioning such violent methods are clearly small minorities of the Iraqi population but they are managing to slowly drag the entire country back in time to the more brutal times of the Shia-Sunni violence in 2006 and 2007.
It is clear and imminent that whether the world is noticing or not, Iraq is sliding dangerously close to civil war. Government measures, such as the increasing use of sniffer dogs that can smell out car bombs and large helium balloons over Baghdad which use surveillance cameras to track traffic, are generally met with scepticism by the population. The only hope is that the majority of the country is so desperate for peace and the end of sectarian violence that the violence might fizzle out, however, at the moment, it seems to be never-ending.
Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnistbookmark me