Iraq's insurgency shows staying power

With a string of bombings today in Baghdad, and Sunni militants still in control of parts of Anbar Province, Prime Minister Maliki's iron fist does not seem to be deterring insurgents.

Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
Iraqi security forces look up as smoke billows from a building that was hit in an explosion in the business district of Sinak in central Baghdad February 5, 2014. Four bombs struck near Baghdad's heavily-fortified 'Green Zone' and a busy square in the center of the capital on Wednesday, killing at least 13 people, security sources said.

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A string of deadly explosions rocked central Baghdad today in a fresh eruption of violence between Sunni militants, still in command of areas of Anbar Province, and the government, bent on pursuing a hard line toward the insurgency ahead of April elections.   

Escalating violence already made January the most deadly month in Iraq in almost six years, with more than 1,000 people killed, the BBC reports. With a standoff in Anbar and strikes pounding cities across the country on an almost daily basis – today’s blasts in Baghdad follow a rocket attack on Fallujah on Tuesday – chances for a peaceful resolution appear slim.

The most violent blast today took place across the street from the Iraqi foreign ministry, on the edge of the international Green Zone. Soon after, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt at a nearby falafel restaurant, the Associated Press reports. Another car bomb was detonated in Khilani Square in the city's commercial center. Authorities managed to diffuse the fifth bomb near the oil ministry before it went off, according to the Agence France-Presse. At least 24 people died.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, although the blasts bear the hallmarks of Sunni militant groups, which have launched similar coordinated attacks in the past, AFP reports.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy explains that the rise of violence has its roots in urgent political grievances of the country’s Sunni majority and in  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government’s stubborn refusal to address them:

What's happening in Iraq at the moment is not some atavistic expression of "ancient" hatreds and irreconcilable cultural differences. Instead, it's a function of the failure of politics and power sharing in the modern era. And that's the kind of failure that can be rectified if Iraq's leaders, starting with Mr. Maliki, decide to change course from the politics of marginalization and exclusion. 

To be sure, there's been no sign of dawning wisdom yet.

…A fairer share of oil wealth, jobs in the bureaucracy, and guarantees of political autonomy in places like Anbar could go a long way to containing this crisis. Of course, whether Maliki will make that choice is far from clear; his track record doesn't inspire great optimism. But this is not an intractable conflict, nor one that Iraqis don't have the tools to sort out themselves, were they to choose to try.

Despite facing pressure from the diplomatic community to seek a negotiated resolution to the present conflict, the government has taken a hard line against the insurgents, vowing to show no weakness as April parliamentary elections loom.

Standoff in Anbar

The standoff in Anbar Province has persisted for several weeks, as government forces struggle to oust Sunni militants who have taken control of parts of Ramadi and the entire city of Fallujah.

A prominent tribal leader allied with the government said the attack was “imminent,” according to AFP, although the government has so far been reluctant to unleash an all-out ground assault:

Security forces and pro-government tribal fighters have made slow progress in Ramadi after days of heavy clashes, and late Tuesday had retaken several neighborhoods that had been militant strongholds, according to officers and an AFP journalist.

In Fallujah, however, security forces have largely stayed out of the city in recent weeks fearing major incursions could ignite a drawn-out campaign with high civilian casualties and heavy damage to property.

But with no negotiations underway, how long the standoff will continue in the face of daily eruptions of violence throughout the country remains unclear.

Reuters reported on Monday that government forces killed 57 militants in Anbar Province, citing figures provided by Defense Ministry officials, who hinted at a possible upcoming assault on the rebel-held city of Fallujah.

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