By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
Nearly 900 civilians were killed across Iraq in September as sectarian violence worsened, raising the death toll for 2013 to more than last year's total, the United Nations reported this week. Sunni Islamist militants have perpetrated the overwhelming majority of violence, with the ISI leading the campaign. In addition to 887 civilians, 92 members of the security forces were killed the ISF reported, however this figure may well be higher as the ISF are renowned for misleading casualty figures.
September's toll brought the number of people killed so far this year to 5,740, exceeding the toll for all of 2012, when the first yearly increase in civilian deaths was recorded since 2009 following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. Unsurprisingly, Baghdad was the worst affected governorate but there have been major spikes in violence along the western border regions as the Syrian conflict has spread across the region creating an amorphous battle space that encompasses Iraq and Syria.
Despite the obvious daily churn of violence that persists in everyday Iraq there is clear evidence that the Arab spring, the Syrian conflict and the global jihadi cause are now having a significant impact on the Iraqi security situation and the likelihood of a regional sectarian conflict grows. Under the leadership of Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi the ISI have continued to aggressively push into eastern Syria in an attempt to gain ground and realize the ultimate Al-Qaeda (AQ) goal of creating a caliphate that encompasses Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Abu Ghraib jailbreak has brought significant numbers of combat tested fighters back into the field and AQ is recruiting at a rate unseen for many years, with a direct result being that the rate of AQ attacks has tripled in Iraq, specifically against government targets and the Shia community. Perhaps the most concerning element of all of this is the proximity of significant number of hardened Al Qaeda fighters on the border of NATO.