Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq Bombs Deliberate Ploy to Incite Sunni-Shia Conflict

Mainstream politicians on all sides agree on the threat, but critics say they should set example of unity themselves.
By Abeer Mohammed, Khalid Waleed
  • Graffiti saying "No sectarianism" on an anti-blast wall in Baquba, Diyala province, April 2012. (Photo: IWPR)
    Graffiti saying "No sectarianism" on an anti-blast wall in Baquba, Diyala province, April 2012. (Photo: IWPR)

Iraqi politicians from across the ethnic and religious spectrum agree that a wave of attacks targeting Shia Iraqis this month appears to be a deliberate move by extremists to reignite the sectarian conflict of past years.

The “Islamic State of Iraq”, a Sunni militant group affiliated to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for most of the serial bombings that have left over 150 people dead since the beginning of June.

The carnage began on June 4 with 24 dead and more than 120 injured when a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle at the Baghdad headquarters of the Shia Endowment, a body which manages religious sites across Iraq.

On June 13, about 75 people were killed and over 200 were wounded in a string of attacks across the country. Once again, most of the casualties were Shia Muslims.

The Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement describing this attack as "blessed Wednesday's battle", a "response to the crimes of the Shia government", and a blow “in support of Sunni prisoners".

Two car bombings in Baghdad on June 16 left 32 dead and at least 60 injured. This time the victims were pilgrims marking the anniversary of the death of Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh of the Twelve Imams of Shia Islam.

Then, two days later, a suicide bomber detonated his charges among the crowd at a Shia funeral in the city of Baquba in central Iraq, killing 25 people and injuring 40.

Iraq’s mainstream political groupings – whether Shia, Sunni or Kurdish – were in agreement on what the bombers were seeking to do.

As Maysun al-Damaloji, a spokesperson for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, described the attacks as "designed to sow ‘fitnah’ [discord] among Iraqis, especially since it coincided with the Imam Musa al-Kadhim pilgrimage".

Damaloji had harsh words for the government and its armed forces, suggesting they had allowed a bad lapse in security to happen.

A spokesman for the Kurdish Alliance, Moayyad al-Tayyib, said in a statement emailed to IWPR, "We strongly condemn the bombings that targeted innocent civilians. We hold the security authorities partly responsible.”

Ali Shubbar, a Shia member of parliament, agreed that the bombings were intended as an incitement to sectarian conflict.

"The terrorists are trying to play a vicious game by using sectarianism as an instrument to achieve their plans, and by sowing hatred among Iraqis," he said.

Shubbar said the government, which is dominated by Shia politicians, should not be held solely accountable for gaps in security. All political parties were "responsible for what goes on in this country", he said.

The Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties have been locked in dispute since December 2011, when the last American troops left Iraq. Power-sharing arrangements wore thin after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi – the most senior Sunni Arab politician in the country – on terrorism charges. (See Conflict Fears as Iraqi Power Balance Crumbles.)

As the dispute continues, Kurds have joined forces with Maliki's political rivals to accuse him of autocratic methods. The prime minister could yet face a vote of no confidence in parliament.

Political analysts have expressed alarm about the serial bombings, which they fear could tip Iraq back into the kind of Shia-Sunni conflict that disfigured the country in the years following Saddam Hussein's removal in 2003.

Osama Murtadha, a Baghdad-based analyst, believes the angry rhetoric of politicians fosters an environment conducive to bloodshed.

"In an atmosphere in which Shia and Sunni politicians fight each other, and Sunni insurgents announce they are bombing the Shia, sectarian conflict looks very likely,” he told IWPR.

"When one group strikes at another, the other one will not sit silently by – it will seek revenge. That is a human nature, and that is what we fear."

He concluded, "This country's leaders need to become aware of what’s going on in their homeland before time runs out. Once shed, blood cannot be restored.”

(Other stories on this issue: Shia Casualties Rise After American Withdrawal ; Iraq: Sectarian Violence Fears in Diyala )

Abeer Mohammed is IWPR editor for Iraq. Khalid Waleed is an Iraqi freelance journalist trained by IWPR. Mohammed al-Zaidi, also an IWPR-trained reporter, contributed additional reporting.

(Other stories on this issue: Shia Casualties Rise After American Withdrawal ; Iraq: Sectarian Violence Fears in Diyala )

Abeer Mohammed is IWPR editor for Iraq. Khalid Waleed is an Iraqi freelance journalist trained by IWPR. Mohammed al-Zaidi, also an IWPR-trained reporter, contributed additional reporting.