Middle East

Iraq attacks push May death toll past 600

Iraqi security personnel inspect the site of a bomb attack in Karrada district of Baghdad , May 30, 2013. (REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)

BAGHDAD: Attacks in Iraq, the deadliest of which struck Baghdad, killed 32 people on Thursday, pushing the death toll for this month above 600 and sparking fears of all-out sectarian conflict.

The United Nations has called for Iraq's leaders to urgently hold talks to resolve wide-ranging political disputes that have been linked to the surge in unrest, warning that the country was "ready to explode" into violence.

But the government's public response has so far largely been limited to speeches, a shakeup of senior security officers and announcing a series of vague new measures relating to security.

"I am seriously concerned," UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler told AFP by telephone from Berlin.

"This can get worse, and that's why I strongly advocate that this bloodletting is stopped and the situation does not deteriorate."

He added: "If there is a political agreement, then security will be better. We see it on the contrary right now -- there is no political agreement, and sectarian violence is on the rise."

In a statement to the press, the diplomat also said: "Systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment if all Iraqi leaders do not engage immediately to pull the country out of this mayhem."

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari echoed those remarks, telling reporters at a news conference in Baghdad: "If there is no political agreement, then it will affect security, and there won't be a stable security situation.

"This is a golden rule."

Analysts and diplomats often link political stability in Iraq to levels of violence, arguing that militants capitalise on political disagreements and disputes to gain support for their activities on the ground.

Amid all the statements and pronouncements, the violence has intensified.

On Thursday, six car bombs and two other explosions in Baghdad killed 23 people and wounded at least 79, security and medical officials said.

Two border policemen were ambushed and killed along the main Iraq-Jordan highway, while three policemen were killed in a suicide car bombing in the northern city of Mosul, and four more people died in another such attack west of the city.

Violence a day earlier, including the bombing of a bridal party in south Baghdad, killed 28 people. Security forces on Thursday barred journalists from attending the funeral for victims of the wedding party assault.

A further 46 people died in unrest on Tuesday.

The latest attacks took to 607 the number of people killed in May, with more than 1,000 having died in less than two months, according to AFP figures based on reports by security and medical sources.

The tolls are still markedly lower than the worst of Iraq's sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, when death tolls could run to well over 1,000 people a month, but they represent a substantial increase on previous months.

Iraq has seen a heightened level of violence since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority, which erupted into protests in late December.

Members of the minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until Saddam Hussein's overthrow by US-led forces in 2003, accuse the Shiite-led government of marginalising and targeting their community.

Analysts say government policies that have disenfranchised Sunnis have given militant groups in Iraq both fuel and room to manoeuvre among the disillusioned community.

The government has made some concessions aimed at placating protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues have yet to be addressed.

Various efforts to bring top politicians together since late 2011 have all failed.

On Tuesday, the cabinet announced a series of measures related to security.

These included "pursuing all kinds of militias", calling for a meeting of political powers to discuss developments, providing unspecified support to security agencies and warning the media against inciting sectarian strife.

It was unclear what, if any, immediate impact they could have on the worsening security situation.

 

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