By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
In a week peppered with violence Iraqis continue to bear the brunt of heightened sectarian tensions and increased insurgent bombings as the country’s political elite continue to procrastinate and find little way forward. Bombing and fighting across the northern and central belts throughout the reporting has left nearly 176 dead and unconfirmed numbers wounded.
With the country's Shi'ite leadership facing fallout from the Syrian conflict, which has invigorated Sunni insurgents in Iraq and prompted warnings of civil war, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the Kurdistan region on Sunday for the first time in more than two years, in an attempt to resolve a long-running dispute over oil and land that has strained Iraq's unity to the limit. Better relations with the Kurds could ease some of the pressure on Maliki however as of Sunday 09 June no breakthrough had been made. Maliki's last official trip to Kurdistan was in 2010, when the "Arbil Agreement" was struck, allowing him to form a power-sharing government among majority Shi'ite Muslims, Sunnis and ethnic Kurds after months of wrangling.
Despite these more positive overtures the security situation has remained precipitous throughout the week. Wednesday 05 June saw gunmen ambush a bus and execute 15 passengers on a remote desert road in western Iraq. Officials blamed al Qaeda for the ambush in which, they said, 10 border police and five local residents were executed between Anbar province and Kerbala however it was not immediately clear whether the victims were Shi'ite or Sunni Muslims. The attacking of ISF in Anbar has become more common of late – especially of the ‘Sahwa’ militias - and as such the ambush of Wednesday is quite possibly a continuation of current local trends.
Unsurprisingly, Friday prayers once again became the focal point of insurgent actions as suicide bombers smashed their cars into a bus full of Iranian Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims and a police checkpoint, killing at least 17 people. Police said a convoy of three buses carrying Iranian pilgrims, who often visit Iraq's Shi'ite shrines, was attacked in Muqdadiya, 80 km northeast of Baghdad. ISF initially reported at least nine people killed and 27 wounded, however an official with Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization told the semi-official Fars news agency that based on preliminary information, 16 Iranians had been killed and 44 wounded.
In a continuation of the day’s violence at least eight other people were killed, including four civilians, and 17 more wounded, when two suicide bombers in cars attacked a police checkpoint in al-Hamdhiya, just east of the city of Ramadi in west central Iraq.