News / Middle East

    Iraq's Sectarian Tensions Create Opportunities for Attacks

    Mohammed Ali lies in a hospital bed after being injured in a car bomb attack in Zafaraniyah, Baghdad, Iraq,  Jan. 27, 2012.
    Mohammed Ali lies in a hospital bed after being injured in a car bomb attack in Zafaraniyah, Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 27, 2012.

    Bombings and mass-casualty attacks have killed at least 270 people across Iraq since late December, according to tallies compiled by Western news agencies. The attacks have coincided with an Iraqi political crisis that has exposed deep sectarian divisions within the government.

    Middle East analysts say that political tensions have created an unstable security situation making Iraqis more vulnerable to violence.

    The Iraqi government vows to track down the killers, but there have been few claims of responsibility, save for an al-Qaida splinter group saying it was behind two of the attacks.

    Ranj Alaaldin, a London-based Iraq expert at research institute Certus Intelligence, said gaps in security grow during political divisions.

    “Iraq’s security is dependent on Iraqis presenting a united front and being sympathetic to each other," he said. "The existing political climate of extreme divisions and uncertainty leads to the opposite."

    Alaaldin said these security gaps have helped Iraq’s main Sunni militant group, the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, carry out sophisticated mass-casualty attacks on Iraqi government targets in recent years.

    Iraq's Sectarian Tensions Create Opportunities for Attacks
    Iraq's Sectarian Tensions Create Opportunities for Attacks

    Al-Qaida link

    The Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for a wave of bombings in mostly Shi’ite areas of Baghdad that killed about 70 people on December 22. It also said it carried out a January 15 raid on a Shi'ite-dominated government security compound in the western town of Ramadi, where seven policemen were killed.

    Alaaldin said the group targeted majority Shi'ites because it wanted to provoke them into carrying out revenge attacks on Sunnis and push the country back to the brink of civil war.

    But al-Qaida does not appear to be responsible for much of the other violence that has happened in Iraq since December.

    Maria Fantappie, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said al-Qaida is no longer a significant force in Iraq because it has not been able to smuggle as many fighters into the country as in previous years.

    Alaaldin said no terrorist group has a dominant foothold in the country.  

    “Iraq is flooded with ammunition and explosives,” he said. “It requires very little skill and planning for bandits to use these weapons to attack vulnerable civilian targets like markets or other crowded sites.”

    Alaaldin said attacks also have been carried out by Shi’ite groups, including those who broke away from the former militia of Iraq’s radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and others backed by Iran, such as the Hezbollah Brigades.

    He said some militants also collaborate with Iraqi government “insiders” who help them to penetrate rigid security checks around official buildings.

    Security forces vulnerable

    Iraq analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said the involvement of Iraqi security forces in the attacks cannot be ruled out.

    “There are almost 600,000 Iraqi security personnel. Some of them almost certainly are tied to extremist groups,” he said.

    But Cordesman, a former U.S. Defense and State Department official, said it's unlikely that the Iraqi government is complicit in the violence.

    “It has not served anybody's interest,” he said. “It has not helped the Shi'ites, the Sunnis or the Kurds in the government. It has made them look weak and ineffective. And that seems to be another goal of the attacks.”

    Analyst Fantappie said Iraqi troops and police have improved their ability to prevent attacks with the help of U.S. military training in the years leading up to last December's U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

    But she said the effectiveness of Iraq’s security system has been undermined by the political rivalries that have spread from the government to the highest ranks of the armed forces.

    Shaky politics undermine security

    Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has exercised control over those forces since December 2010, when he formed a unity government and appointed himself as the acting head of Iraq’s three security ministries - defense, interior and national security.

    Maliki has used those powers to appoint top-ranking military officials. Cordesman said the Maliki government's awarding of security posts to its political allies has undermined the quality of Iraqi commanders and contributed to the country's endemic corruption.

    Fantappie said the prime minister's consolidation of power also has fueled a sense of alienation among minority Sunnis and other Iraqis who support his main political rival - the Iraqiya alliance.

    Iraqiya won the most parliamentary seats in Iraq’s 2010 elections but failed to form a coalition and joined a unity government led by Maliki's National Alliance, the main Shi'ite bloc. In recent weeks, Iraqiya has been boycotting the Cabinet in protest at being kept out of key government positions.

    It also objected to Maliki's December decision to order the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on suspicion of running a death squad, a charge many Sunnis say is clearly politically motivated.

    “You have Iraqi people who feel they have been completely pushed out of government, who have an increasing sense of non-representation,” Fantappie said. "This also can trigger some of Iraq's sectarian violence."


    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.