How has Baghdad been fuelling
sectarian fire in Iraq?Analysts say Maliki policies that have politically isolated
Iraqi Sunnis are main factor behind spike in sectarian violence across Iraq.Rising
discontent among Iraq's SunnisMiddle East Online BAGHDAD:
between Iraqi Sunnis and the Shiite authorities they accuse of marginalising
their community is driving a deadly spike in violence that stops short of
all-out conflict for now, experts say.
Attacks including bombings that ripped through
worshippers in mosques and cut down shoppers in markets killed over 430 people
in Iraq so far in May, 461 in April and 220 or more every other month this
Crispin Hawes, the Middle East and North Africa
director for the Eurasia Group consultancy, said policies of Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki that have politically isolated Iraqi Sunnis are the main factor behind
the spike in violence.
They have encouraged both "radicalisation" and
passive tolerance of militants.
Pretty much since the last US soldier knocked the
dust from his boots as he crossed the border (in late 2011), Maliki has gone
after a succession of Sunni Arab politicians," Hawes said.
Maliki made an unsuccessful call on MPs to remove
Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni who had said the premier was
"worse than Saddam Hussein," the day that the last US soldiers left, while an
arrest warrant was issued for then-vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, another
Sunni, the following day.
Hashemi fled Iraq and has since been sentenced to
death multiple times in absentia for crimes including murder.
Maliki also sought to remove "Sunni Arab officers
from the military (and) militarised, increasingly, population centres in western
and northwestern Sunni Arab-dominated provinces in Iraq," Hawes said.
It has been a consistent ratcheting up of
pressure on that community that has progressively isolated and restricted their
role in Iraqi politics," he said.
Discontent has been growing among Iraq's Sunni
minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until
US-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, bringing the Shiite
majority to power.
Sunnis say Shiite authorities have marginalised
their community and targeted them with unwarranted arrests and spurious
Still-ongoing demonstrations erupted in
Sunni-majority areas of Iraq in late December, and an April 23 security forces
raid on a protest site that sparked clashes in which dozens died sent tensions
While the government has made some concessions
aimed at placating protesters and Iraqi Sunnis in general, such as freeing
prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, underlying
issues have yet to be addressed.
John Drake, an Iraq specialist with risk
consulting firm AKE Group, also pointed to Sunnis' feelings of marginalisation
as the cause of the violence.
There is an ongoing sense of marginalisation
amongst the Sunni community, exacerbated by frustrations over a lack of jobs,
development and improvements in standards of living," Drake said.
This has increased the motivation of Sunni
militant groups to strike.
If they target the government and security
forces, they may succeed in gaining sympathy from antagonised Sunni residents,"
Sunni militants, including those from Al-Qaeda's
Iraqi front group, carry out frequent attacks.
Shiite militant groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq
have meanwhile officially made their peace with the government, though some are
thought to still be active, albeit more discretely.
It is unclear what direction the violence will
take, but even the current heightened level of unrest is a far cry from the
worst of Iraq's sectarian war from 2006 to 2008, when tens of thousands of
people were killed.
Hawes said the rise in violence increases the
likelihood of movement toward civil war or the disintegration of Iraq, but he
believes an "intensified version of what we have now" to be the more probable
Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with the
International Crisis Group, said that "there will be a situation of continuous
local clashes (between) protesters' armed factions and government-affiliated
But this "violence will remain highly local,
however, as the protesters' armed factions are many, and mostly disconnected
from one province to another," she said.
"Conditions have worsened over recent weeks and
the violence is strongly linked to core social divisions in the country," said
Drake. "If the situation deteriorates further, it could certainly resemble a