Officials in Iraq are growing increasingly concerned over an unabated spike in violence that claimed at least another 33 lives in bomb blasts on Thursday and is reviving fears of a return to widespread sectarian fighting.
Authorities on Thursday announced plans to impose a sweeping ban on many cars across the Iraqi capital of Baghdad starting early yesterday in an apparent effort to thwart car bombings, as the UN envoy to Iraq warned that “systemic violence is ready to explode.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was shown on state TV visiting security checkpoints around Baghdad the previous night as part of a three-hour inspection tour, underscoring the government’s efforts to show it is acting to curtail the bloodshed.
Iraqi security forces are struggling to contain the country’s most relentless round of violence since the 2011 US military withdrawal.
The rise in violence follows months of protests against the Shiite-led government by Iraq’s Sunni minority, many of whom feel they have been marginalized and unfairly treated since the 2003 US-led invasion. Tensions escalated sharply last month after a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp.
Sunni militants have long targeted Iraq’s Shiite majority and government security forces. However, Sunni mosques and other targets have also been struck over the past several weeks, raising the possibility that Shiite militias are also growing more active.
Several members of the security forces were killed in Thursday’s bombings. The attacks also included an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber targeting a provincial governor.
The spike in violence, which has gained momentum since the middle of last month, is raising worries that Iraq is heading back toward the widespread sectarian bloodletting that spiked in 2006 and 2007, and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
More than 500 people were killed last month. April was Iraq’s deadliest since June 2008, according to a UN tally that put the death toll at more than 700.