Sadr criticizes Maliki as violence spirals in Iraq

Civil war looms in Iraq

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr criticized the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accusing the Premier of waging a sectarian war and urging him to end the oppression of minorities, a day before a string of deadly attacks that killed 13 people.
The government must hold accountable and sack those who are manipulating the intelligence and security services, Sadr said in a statement. He also urged the authorities to work hard in order to defuse sectarian tension ravaging Iraq.
Sadr concluded his statement by saying, "This is my appeal to the people on the one hand, and to the government, on the other hand. Forewarned is forearmed."
Analysts are wondering about the nature of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, whether it is political, religious, or both.
Attacks in Iraq, the deadliest of which struck Baghdad, killed 13 people on Thursday, the latest in violence that has left 168 dead in a week and sparked fears of all-out sectarian conflict.
The Maliki 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.
"If there is no political agreement, then it will affect security, and there won't be a stable security situation," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned, during a news conference in Baghdad. "This is a golden rule."
He added that it was "the government's responsibility to redouble its efforts to revise its security plans, to contain this wave, to prevent this from sliding into sectarian war."
Amid all the statements and pronouncements, however, the violence has intensified.
On Thursday, three car bombs in central and northeast Baghdad killed seven people and wounded 26, while two more explosions in the capital killed one person and wounded 10.
Two border policemen were also ambushed along the main Iraq-Jordan highway and shot dead, while three policemen were killed in an early morning suicide car bombing in the northern city of Mosul.
Violence a day earlier, including a bombing against 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.
And 46 more died in unrest on Tuesday.
The latest attacks took to 590 the number of people killed in May, with more than 1,000 having died in less than two months, according to 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 per month, but 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 that 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-Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues have yet to be addressed.
UN envoy Martin Kobler has called for the country's leaders to meet to resolve long-running political crises that have paralysed the government and been blamed for its inability to halt the bloodshed.
"It is their responsibility to stop the bloodshed now... to act immediately and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse and not let terrorists benefit from their political differences," he said on Tuesday.
But 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.