By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
This brief covers an extended reporting period from 11 – 20 March in order to coincide with the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion and a week which has seen heightened levels of violence, especially in Baghdad and surrounding provinces, but also notably in Basra. In line with this, and especially due to the intense levels of bombing in Baghdad, countrywide fatalities increased with a significant number of civilians being killed due to insurgent actions. By close of play 20 Mar the approx. figure of fatalities was at 213 with estimates of wounded ranging from 257 – 400. Unclear reporting and multiple simultaneous events have ensured that a ‘true’ figure may never be reached, however it is clear that the bombings and attacks in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk point towards an emboldened and fortified Sunni insurgency.
The week’s events have been dominated by the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion, developments in the Turkey / PKK roadmap to peace and an increase in sectarian tensions following the attempted arrest of Rafe al-Essawi. In line with this there continues to be a marked increase in the numbers of political and sectarian motivated ‘silent’ attacks (those using silenced weapons and intimidatory tactics), particularly in Baghdad which has seen at least 13 assassinations alone, which is unsurprising given the proximity of the national elections, the fluid situation in Syria (particularly with the reported use of chemical weapons against Sunni rebel groups) and the swelling of the domestic Sunni protest movement aligned with Rafe al-Essawi.
Essawi was until recently the Iraqi Finance Minister and the highest-ranking Sunni politician. Given that he is now on the run from his own government in Al-Anbar province, alleging increased persecution of Sunnis, is the latest sign that persistent sectarian tensions are worsening and undermining any lingering hopes of political stability and national unity in the run up to the forthcoming national elections, thus setting perfect conditions for a advanced split political environment. Mr Essawi and, to a greater extent, Al Anbar continue to act as the fulcrum of an emboldened and rising Sunni resistance against Iraq’s Shiite controlled central government and the government in Syria, with potentially ruinous consequences.