Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the Syrian war has awakened dormant Sunni-Shiite tensions.
A series of bombs ripped through Baghdad on Wednesday morning. At least 30 people were killed and 170 injured, according to a Ministry of Interior official. Attackers coordinated at least 14 car bombs, two roadside bombs, and one suicide bomb between the early morning and 11:00 a.m.
The explosions targeted predominately Shiite neighborhoods during rush hour. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet, but similar attacks have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The attacks continue an upward trend of violence in Iraq that has brought a level of bloodshed not seen here since 2008. Last month alone 1,057 people lost their lives and another 2,326 were injured in violent attacks throughout Iraq. This year more than 4,000 Iraqis have died and more than 10,000 have been injured by attacks like today's. Baghdad has suffered more attacks than any other area of the country.
In a weekly televised address shortly after Wednesday’s bombings, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki directly linked his country’s deteriorating security to the conflict in Syria. “The internal situation in Syria is playing a major role with what’s happening in Iraq,” he said.
The recent wave of violence comes amid mounting sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites and increased separatist rumblings from the nation's Kurdish minority.
Though Sunni-Shiite hatred fanned Iraq's civil war, particularly during 2006 and 2007, tensions have cooled somewhat since. But Syria's civil war has similar religious demographics and has seen the Islamic State in Iraq link up with Sunni Arab fighters there and Mr. Maliki's government tepidly back Bashar al-Assad's government.
“The situation is so fragile, and the political problems are the main cause of it,” says Ihssan Al-Shimari, a professor of political science at Baghdad University. “The insurgency will exploit the political problems to conduct more attacks in Iraq. Additionally they will exploit the weakness of security forces, and the sectarian divisions in Iraqi society.”
Throughout Iraq, both Sunnis and Shiites have crossed the border into Syria to aid the different sides of the civil war. Shiites have sided with the Syrian government, while Sunnis have joined the opposition helping to form some of the most brutal fighting units, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Mr. Shimari says that the participation of militants in the Syrian conflict has awakened dormant sectarian tensions and recent attacks could be retribution for Shiite support of the government of Syrian President Assad.
The persistent attacks have also undermined the credibility of both Iraqi security forces and politicians who appear incapable of stopping them. Throughout Baghdad, Iraqi security forces have established numerous checkpoints, complete with bomb detection devices, yet these security measures appear to have had little effect on the ability of militants to operate within the capital.
“The government is not able to protect the people, and some of these explosions are because the government is not responding to the Sunnis’ demands. I think Sunni society is not upset with these explosions and they feel like it’s a punishment for the government,” says Hassan Alawi, a member of parliament. “The attacks will continue as long as there’s no political solution. It’s not a matter of security measures.”