Car bombs cap week of violence that underscores Iraq's fragility

Monday's car bombs came after a week of attacks on both Sunni and Shiite targets that killed more than 200 – and only days after Iraq's 'most democratic' elections.

Imad al-Khozai/Reuters
Street cleaners remove debris on the road after a car bomb exploded in Diwaniyah province, 95 miles south of Baghdad, Monday.

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A fresh wave of violence in Iraq yesterday underscores the fragility of the country's nascent democratic practice, and how easily it could once again devolve into sectarian conflict. 

More than 30 people were killed when four car bombs went off in heavily populated areas in the cities of Amarah, Karbala, Diwaniyah, and Mahmoudiya, all located in Shiite areas of south and central Iraq, the Associated Press reports. The bombings come after a week of attacks on both Shiite and Sunni targets across the country that have collectively killed more than 240, prompting the government to announce a crackdown on media outlets it accuses of stoking the violence with “unprofessional reporting.”

As The Christian Science Monitor reported in March, a drumbeat of antigovernment protests has been building since December, driven by widespread Sunni dissatisfaction about their place in postwar Iraq, which is led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite State of Law coalition.  

While many discount the possibility of a coup, rising sectarian tension and an ongoing political crisis have raised fears that there is a new battle looming between Baghdad and the provinces….

"We're being marginalized," said one young [Sunni] man who did not want to give his name. "We're not against the government, but the government could take action on this issue."

Protesters in Sunni areas have demanded the release of several thousand prisoners held under antiterrorism laws, reinstatement of former Army officers, and the hiring of more Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated security forces.

The latest wave of violence began a week ago, when security forces stormed an antigovernment Sunni protest camp in the northern city of Hawija. The subsequent fight killed 23 people, including three soldiers, according to the AP. From there, conflict rippled outward, as Sunni militants clashed with Iraqi soldiers and scattered car bombs – a favorite tactic of Al Qaeda – exploded in towns and cities around the country.

In the midst of the retaliatory back and forth, the government announced two days ago that it was revoking the licenses of 10 satellite TV channels, including Al Jazeera Arabic, which it accused of coverage that was "provocative, misleading, and exaggerated, with the objective of disturbing the civil and democratic process,” the news channel reported on its website.

The attacks and media crackdown come as Iraqis vote in a series of provincial elections, a crucial test of the fragile democratic process in the runup to its parliamentary election next year.

Voters in 12 of Iraqi’s 18 provinces cast their ballots April 20. At least 13 candidates and two political party officers were killed in the weeks leading to election day, the Monitor reports. Although turnout hovered around 50 percent and two Sunni-majority provinces rescheduled their elections due to security concerns, they were “considered to be perhaps the most democratic in Iraq’s post-war history,” according to the Monitor.

As one Iranian analyst noted in an op-ed for the Tehran Times, the elections suggested the shifting terrain of Iraqi politics.

The provincial election provided an opportunity for the government to prove its ability to maintain order and security without the help of foreigners. Since the withdrawal of the occupation forces in 2011, many were expecting that Iraq would be unable to exercise democracy on its own. However, the government organized a successful election, and Saturday's voting was mostly peaceful.

However, the elections were delayed in two provinces because of unstable security conditions, but officials later announced that those provinces would vote on July 4. Any misstep by the government in the electoral process in those areas may complicate the situation since the opposition is looking for an opportunity to highlight the weaknesses of the government and create a new controversy.    

Still, he noted, the rising violence did not bode well. “The rise of sectarian disputes in Iraq over the past few months has greatly jeopardized the prospects for a stable Iraq,” he wrote. 

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