News / Middle East

Iraq's Violence Spirals Out of Control

Bombing victims are taken for burial in the Sh'iite holy city of Najaf, Sept. 15, 2013.
Bombing victims are taken for burial in the Sh'iite holy city of Najaf, Sept. 15, 2013.
Pamela Dockins
Iraq is grappling with its worst violence in years with almost daily bombings and attacks undermining the country's fragile framework and rivaling the dark days of civil unrest in 2007 and 2008.

Just this week, car bombs rippled through Baghdad, part of a series of explosions across Iraq that left at least 31 dead.

The violence has escalated steadily after U.S. troops largely pulled out of the country at the end of 2011.

Civilian deaths in Iraq have more than doubled in the last year, according to a United Nations casualty count.

According to statistics from the United Nations Assistance Mission, August to August one year tallies show deaths up from 2,000 in 2012 to 4,800 in 2013.

Appeal for help

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed for help this week. In a televised speech on Wednesday, he urged  "citizens, politicians and journalists" to support security forces as they try to chase down what he called "the terrorists."

But analysts say much more than terrorism is at play. The violence is largely sectarian, they say, and fueled by many complicating factors including a political deadlock in Baghdad and a spillover of al-Qaida activity from the conflict in Syria.

Iraq civilian casualtiesIraq civilian casualties
x
Iraq civilian casualties
Iraq civilian casualties
The Iraqi government has been stalled for months amid a Sunni-Shi'ite political and social divide.

Washington-based analyst Anthony Cordesman said Maliki may have contributed to the unrest when he moved broadly to consolidate power in his Shi'ite-dominated government, leaving Sunnis feeling disenfranchised.

"On the Sunni side, support for violence has broadened significantly," said Cordesman, who works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The government is resisting, largely as a Shi'ite entity."

Cordesman, who co-authored a September report on Iraq's violence, said the unrest is also fueled by social discontent brought on by high unemployment, little industry growth, and a poor distribution of oil revenue amid a dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish minority in the oil-rich north.

"These forces are forces that make it very hard to govern Iraq and very hard to stop the violence," he said.

Iraq's government this week released a five-year economic plan to try to diversify beyond oil production and develop the industrial sector. But the plan faces major obstacles and, if recent history is any indication, will be difficult to implement, analysts say.

The political and economic situation is complicated too by the fate of the Kurds. Kurdish voters go to the polls Saturday in elections for seats in the self-rule region’s local parliament. Increasingly, Kurds are insisting on more separation from the government in Baghdad,

Syria fallout

Besides internal strife, Iraq is facing a fallout from Syria's civil war.

Carnegie Middle East Center analyst Paul Salem said Iraq's Sunnis may feel emboldened by the Sunni opposition in Syria.

"If the Sunnis in Syria make more headway there, the Sunnis in Iraq feel that that might empower them to push back against Maliki and a sort of Shi'ite - dominated government," he said.

Salem said al-Qaida militants fuel unrest in both countries.

"Al-Qaida takes advantage of discontent among the Sunni community [in Iraq] and it can express the more radical discontent, the more militant discontent as in Syria," he said. "The protests began as unarmed and rather civil. As the protests turned into an armed conflict, al-Qaida certainly found a foothold."

Government blames 'terrorists'

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, said Iraq's security apparatus has not been a match for al-Qaida, especially after U.S. troops largely pulled out after a near-decade long presence.

"We lost focus and al-Qaida took advantage of that," he said. "Now we are talking back with your partners to provide the right tools, the capabilities and, more importantly for us, to understand the lessons learned."

Faily said the Iraqi government was determined to provide a safe environment and protect citizens.

But the escalating violence shows there is little evidence to support that and Iraqis in general say they fear a descent into chaos, something analysts would lead to further destabilization in an already volatile Middle East.

  • Smoke rises after a car bomb attack in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in central Baghdad, Sept. 18, 2013.
  • People inspect the aftermath of a car bomb explosion at a commercial street in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Mashtal, Sept. 16, 2013.
  • Bombing victims are taken for burial in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Sept. 15, 2013.
  • Iraqi security forces inspect wrecks of destroyed cars at the site of a car bomb attack in Basra, Sept. 15, 2013.
  • People look at the site of a car bomb attack at a vegetable market in Basra, Sept. 15, 2013.
  • Mourners grieve during the funeral of victims who were killed in a Sunni mosque after two roadside bombs in Baquba, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • Shi'ite women react during a mass funeral for victims of bomb attacks on a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad, Sept. 12, 2013.
  • A man inspects the aftermath of a car bomb attack at the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad, Sept. 4, 2013.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid