Baghdad: A wave of attacks killed at least 95 people in Shiite and Sunni areas of Iraq on Monday, officials said, pushing the death toll over the past week to more than 240 and extending one of the most sustained bouts of sectarian violence the country has seen in years.
The bloodshed is still far shy of the pace, scale and brutality of the dark days of 2006-2007, when Sunni and Shiite militias carried out retaliatory attacks against each other in a cycle of violence that left the country awash in blood. Still, yesterday`s attacks, some of which hit markets and crowded bus stops during the morning rush hour, have heightened fears that the country could be turning back down the path toward civil war.
Sectarian tensions have been worsening since Iraq`s minority Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government. The mass demonstrations, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.
Iraq`s Shiite majority, which was oppressed under the late dictator Saddam Hussein, now holds the levers of power in the country. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias over the past five years or so as Sunni extremist groups such as al Qaeda have targeted them with occasional large-scale attacks.
But the renewed violence in both Shiite and Sunni areas since late last month has fuelled concerns of a return to sectarian warfare. Monday marked the deadliest day in Iraq in more than 20 months, and raised the nationwide death toll since last Wednesday alone to more than 240 people.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused militant groups of trying to exploit Iraq`s political instability to exacerbate sectarian tensions at home, and blamed the recent spike in violence on the wider unrest in the region, particularly in neighbouring Syria. At the same time, he pledged today that insurgents "will not be able to bring back the atmosphere of the sectarian war."