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Surge in violence spurs new fears in Iraq

By Lara Jakes

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 2:15 p.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, June 13, 2012, file photo, family members of Bilal Aziz, 20, who was killed in a car bomb attack, load his coffin onto a vehicle before burial in Najaf, Iraq.

Alaa al-Marjani, File, Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A half year after the U.S. military left Iraq, dire predictions seem to be coming true: The country is mired in violence and the government is on the verge of collapsing. With no relief in sight, there's growing talk of Iraq as a failed state as al-Qaida's local wing staged near daily attacks that killed at least 234 people in June.

Iraq no longer suffers widespread retaliatory killings between Sunni and Shiite extremists that brought the country to the brink of civil war. But the spike in violence heightens fears that Iraq could limp along for years as an unstable and dangerous country.

June was the second-deadliest month since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in mid-December as insurgents exploited the political struggles between the country's ethnic and sectarian factions. More significant than the numbers was the fact that insurgents appeared able to sustain the level of violence over a longer period than usual. There was a major deadly bombing or shooting rampage almost every three days, many targeting Shiite pilgrims.

The violence has brought the weakness of Iraq's security apparatus into sharp focus even as deepening political divisions dim the prospects that the country will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship.

"The state is almost paralyzed and dysfunctional due to political feuds. In such circumstances, the security forces also will be paralyzed and the insurgents groups are making use of this chaos," Haider al-Saadi, the Shiite owner of internet cafe in eastern Baghdad, said Saturday. "I do not think that al-Qaida is getting any stronger — it is the state that is getting weaker."

The situation deteriorated shortly after American troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, following failed negotiations to stay beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline that was cemented in a 2008 security agreement.

The next day Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government issued terror charges against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunnis, who fled Baghdad and remains on the lam. Sunni lawmakers briefly boycotted parliament and al-Maliki's cabinet in protest. By spring, leaders of the self-ruled Kurdish northern region joined the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya political coalition against al-Maliki, whom they accused of refusing to share power.

And last week, in the first major defection by an influential Shiite leader, anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he would direct his followers to join efforts to oust al-Maliki if a power-sharing agreement is not reached.

Al-Maliki, who won a second term in 2010, followed with a threat to call for early elections that would dissolve parliament if government infighting does not stop.

In calling for an early election, al-Maliki is betting he would win with enough widespread support to gain undisputed power. His political coalition fell short of winning the most seats in parliament in 2010 elections and back-room dealing among political parties delayed a new government from taking over for nine months.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh agreed Saturday that the political crisis has fueled June's violent surge.

"The insurgents are making use of the political differences in the country, and the recent attacks are the result of this political strife," al-Dabbagh said.

Violence has been steady across Iraq so far this year, but the levels of attacks in June soared beyond the occasional, if spectacular, wave of bombings that is al- Qaida's usual pattern. Victims mostly have been Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces — three of al-Qaida's favorite targets.

Al-Qaida front group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for a June 13 wave of nearly two dozen bombings nationwide that killed 72 Iraqis. The coordination, sophistication and targets of several other attacks also bore the hallmarks of the terror network.

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