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More than 46 people were killed in Iraq this morning after a wave of car bombs exploded in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods and other cities across the country – the latest signal that the long simmering Shiite-Sunni conflict in Iraq is once again coming to a boil.
The New York Times reports that the attacks targeted a variety of sites, including a hospital, a restaurant, a bus station, and several markets. At least 30 were killed in Baghdad, while others were reported dead in Basra, Kut, and Samawa. The Times writes that more than 100 people were reported wounded, while Agence France-Presse put the injured at least at 226.
The Times reports that no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, though in the past coordinated bombings against Shiites have been a hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The string of car bombs is just the latest event in Iraq's ongoing sectarian conflict, which has flared in recent months. The BBC reports that April, May, and June of this year each saw more than 700 people, mostly civilians, killed in Iraq, with a high of some 1,045 dead in May, according to United Nations figures. July has already surpassed the 700-dead mark, with Reuters putting the tally at 810 so far. Iraq Body Count, an independent watchdog tallying the conflict's death toll, put July's total at 831 before today's attacks.
And AFP notes that today's car bombings follow a pair of coordinated attacks by militants in recent days: an assault Wednesday by some 150 militants on the town of Sulaiman Bek that saw the execution of 14 Shiite truck drivers, and a brazen jailbreak at Abu Ghraib a week ago in which more than 500 prisoners were set free and at least 20 security forces were killed.
The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy, commenting after the jailbreak, writes that "Whether this was a total disaster or just the latest in a series of black eyes for the government remains to be seen."
But what's already clear is light infantry attacks involving a large number of insurgents and weapons, that must have been long planned, were carried out against government forces on the outskirts of Baghdad, the seat of central government power. Iraq's sectarian civil war in some ways never really ended, US protestations that the "surge" brought peace to Iraq to the contrary. The Shiite dominated government has behaved autocratically, clamped down on freedom of speech, continued the tradition of torture in Iraq's prisons and police stations, and cut Sunni Arabs out of the political process.
Not surprisingly some of the Sunni Arabs who were promised a seat at the table in the "new Iraq" but have instead been systematically marginalized are taking up arms again. Lately they've been given heart by Sunni jihadi successes across the border in Syria (where Bashar al-Assad is allied with Shiite Iran and enjoys at least the tepid support of the Maliki government), with Iraqi jihadis from Anbar and other border provinces playing a prominent role in the Jabhat al-Nusra insurgent group, and those returning home reinvigorating their comrades.
BBC News adds that tensions are not just increasing along the country's Sunni-Shiite divide, but within the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well. Analyst Rami Ruhayem writes that the recent spate of attacks – the jailbreak in particular – has been "opening fissures within the governing coalition and between ministers themselves."
After the jailbreak, there were arguments over whether the blame should fall on the justice ministry or the interior ministry, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to sack a number of security officials. Monday's attacks are likely to increase popular anger at the government's failures.