The devastating twin bomb attacks in Baghdad on Sunday – vast explosions that turned what is supposed to be a secure area of the Iraqi capital into a hail of matchwood, masonry and body-parts – were all too predictable.
There were similarly lethal attacks on government buildings in the same area in August. And there will be more, in the run-up to general elections in mid-January.
Unlike in the vicious sectarian civil war between the Shia majority and Sunni minority that engulfed Iraq in 2006-07, the target this time is the government – specifically to put dents in prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s boast that he has restored security to Baghdad and protection to Iraqis.
Mr Maliki, a Shia Islamist trying to reposition himself as an Iraqi nationalist, has ill-advisedly taken credit for the reduction in violence brought about largely by the US troops “surge” of 2007-08, and vaingloriously painted the subsequent American pull-back as a “liberation”. It was inevitable the violent forces still abroad in Iraq would seek to physically deconstruct his argument. And so it has proved.
The withdrawal of US patrols from urban Iraq is not the cause of the upsurge in violence. Some of the worst atrocities took place during the surge. The real reason is that the national reconciliation the US push tried to open space for has simply not happened. This is about politics, not patrolling.
The political chasm between Shia and Sunni still gapes: the Maliki government has made no attempt to reintegrate the foot-soldiers of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath, many of them only party members by virtue of being civil servants. It has alienated Sunni tribal militia, decisive allies in evicting al-Qaeda from central and western Iraq.
Both Sunni and Shia are at loggerheads with the Kurds, determined to expand their self-governing northern region into oil-rich Kirkuk. And then, the Shia themselves are riven between powerful factions, with Mr Maliki determined to emerge triumphant.
These forces are also fighting over an election law that would make parties reveal their candidates rather than simply the name of their electoral list – weakening the patronage of party bosses.
Combined with the well-founded suspicion of interference by forces from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria, all this has created a vacuum. If Iraq is really to reclaim its destiny, its political elites must agree on an inclusive new order all Iraqis can see as legitimate. Either that, or it will be more carnage of which last weekend is but a bloody portent.
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