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'The civil war in Iraq has already begun': Politician claims conflict has started

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-civi...

Iraqi leaders fear that the country is sliding rapidly into a new civil war which “will be worse than Syria”. Baghdad residents are stocking up on rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs in case they are prevented from getting to the shops by fighting or curfews. “It is wrong to say we are getting close to a civil war,” said a senior Iraqi politician. “The civil war has already started.”

This is borne out by the sharp rise in the number of people killed in political violence in Iraq in April, with the UN claiming more than 700 people were killed last month, the highest monthly total for five years.

The situation has suddenly deteriorated since the killing of at least 36 Sunni Arab protesters at a sit-in in Hawijah on 23 April. An observer in Baghdad, who did not want to be named, said “ever since, Hawijah people are frightened of a return to the massacres of 2006”. She added that Sunni and Shia were avoiding going into each others’ areas. Signs of deteriorating security are everywhere. Al-Qa’ida showed its reach on Monday when five car bombs blew up in overwhelmingly Shia southern Iraq, leaving 21 dead. The Sunni fundamentalist group, which had a resurgence in 2012, is responsible for killing a majority of the almost 1,500 Iraqis who have died in political violence so far this year.

Its members are now able to roam freely in Anbar province where a year ago they were a secretive underground movement. In neighbouring Kirkuk, al-Qa’ida last week seized the town of Sulaiman Bec, shot the chief of police, stormed the police station and departed with their weapons after agreeing a truce with the Iraqi army.

Residents in Baghdad say that soldiers, whom they claim are Shia militiamen in uniform, have massed around Sunni enclaves in the city and are setting up checkpoints. Memories of the sectarian civil war in 2006 and 2007 when, in the worst months, some 3,000 people were butchered, may be exacerbating the sense of threat, but old fears are reawakening. Bombs have usually been directed against Shia in the past, but in recent weeks Sunni mosques and cafés are being targeted. “Before we could escape to Syria, but with the violence there where can we go?” asked one Iraqi. “There is no way out.”