April 25, 2009 3:00 am

Iraq deaths prompt fear of renewed strife

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Two suicide bombers killed at least 75 people outside a revered Shia shrine in northern Baghdad yesterday, igniting fears that the Iraqi capital could again descend into sectarian violence.

The bombers struck before midday prayers outside the tomb of Imam Moussa alKadhim, which is adjacent to one of the entrances to the monumental Khadamiya shrine.

The attack, coming a day after two other suicide bombings killed more than 80 people, ushered back the sights and sounds of the darkest moments of the Iraq war.

This capital, scarred and traumatised by years of war, became quieter and safer over the past couple of years. Few ordinary Iraqis saw the lull as a clear turning point. Many feared extremist groups were laying low, waiting for the US military to disentangle itself from a war that appears to be far from over.

Sunni insurgents, who announced last month a new wave of attacks codenamed "The Good Harvest", have carried out numerous bombings in recent weeks in Shia areas.

The insurgency, though smaller than before and no longer in control of big swathes of Iraq, can still enlist suicide bombers and procure large quantities of explosives.

Sunni insurgent groups appear to be motivated by a desire to undermine the Shia-led Iraqi government, which they view as the offspring of the US occupation.

As the US prepares for its withdrawal, which starts this summer and is expected to conclude by the end of 2011, Iraq is deeply divided along political and sectarian lines. While Shia militias have not yet retaliated against Sunnis for the recent carnage, the deep distrust and dissatisfaction many Iraqis feel towards their government could easily prompt Shia militias to once again take up arms.

"Saddam Hussein led Iraq very well!" a distraught woman yelled to a reporter yesterday as she cradled a young, weeping son. Her 35-year-old husband was among the dead, she said.

"We have a corrupt government. They can't protect us. If you're a man, publish that!" she cried.

A senior hospital official said at least 75 bodies arrived at the morgue. The death toll, he estimated, could reach 100 because many bodies were dismembered.

US military officials in Iraq have not said much about the recent surge in bombings. US lawmakers and the Obama administration have shown no signs that they are contemplating delaying the withdrawal of US troops.

"Official Washington is becoming increasingly concerned about the increasing number of high profile attacks that are taking place, particularly those targeting Shia civilians and the Iraqi security forces," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert at Congressional Research Service, a congressional think-tank.

"Some are increasingly concerned that the civil war might restart as US troop levels drop."

But there is no talk in Washington of a dramatic change in course.

Additional reporting by Zaid Sabah and KI Ibrahim

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