For billions of people worldwide, the start of the New Year is an opportunity to look ahead at the year to come and hope that it will bring about greater peace and prosperity for friends and family alike. For the people of Iraq, such hopes seem futile when their government is incapable of suppressing the violence that, according to Iraq Body Count, a database that tracks civilian casualties in the country, has claimed over six hundred lives in the first half of this month alone.
In the capital city, Baghdad, thousands who live in dangerous neighborhoods leave their homes unsure if they will return at the end of the day. And while violence is certainly nothing new in Iraq, the regeneration of Al Qaeda and its resurgence in the last twelve months — helped along by the civil war in neighboring Syria — is once again proving to be the main accelerant driving the country’s mayhem.
The bloodiest day in Iraq for months occurred just two days ago when over ninety Iraqis were killed in a series of car bombings, suicide bombings and shootings across the country, targeting security forces personnel, anti-Al Qaeda militiamen and scores of innocent civilians. Nine bombings exploded in Baghdad alone, most of which were deliberately targeted to claim the lives of Iraqi Shia. Over forty people were killed in those explosions.
What is driving the violence has become a debate among observers. The general consensus is that the terrorism is being fueled by two major factors: the growth of Al Qaeda activity in Anbar Province and the wide chasm of distrust between a central government that is dominated by Shias and Iraq’s Sunni population. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, the second most powerful Sunni official in the Iraqi government, lays most of the blame on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s inability or unwillingness to provide Sunnis with the political power they deserve.
For many Iraqis, however, what is causing the killings every single day is far less important than what it will take for the Iraqi government to stop it.
The Obama Administration, under pressure from hawks in Congress to be more involved in Iraq’s security, has decided to opt for a short-term measure: speed up the delivery of surveillance drones and missiles to the Iraqi army and push Congress to approve the shipment of Apache helicopters. This is precisely what Maliki asked for when he visited the White House last November. But over the long term, pumping more military equipment into Iraq will not solve the security problem. The key, as it always has been, is finding the right balance that provides all of the nation’s communities with a share of political power and a stake in making sure that politics is a success.
Despite this obvious remedy, the sign of a cure to the political dysfunction is as far away as it has ever been, with Anbar Province up in flames and one of Iraq’s major cities, Fallujah, in the hands of Al Qaeda militants and anti-government tribal forces.