Surge in violence spurs new fears in Iraq

By Lara Jakes

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials long have said that al-Qaida's resources in Iraq — including money, weapons and a stable of suicide bombers — have dwindled to the point where the insurgent group can only carry off a few attacks each month.

Many experts believe the turmoil in neighboring Syria is stoking the violence, saying the success of the Sunni-led opposition against President Bashar Assad's regime is emboldening Iraqi Sunnis to attack government targets.

"As the edifice in Syria weakens, the more space for violence is going spill over to the Sunni areas in Iraq," said Kamran Bokhari, a Canadian-based expert on Mideast issues for the global intelligence company Statfor.

Some analysts believe Iraq is turning into a failed state. This month, the U.S.-based Fund for Peace ranked Iraq No. 9 on its annual Top Ten list of failed states worldwide. The nonpartisan research group ranked 178 nations and blamed the persistent security problems in Iraq on the inability to overcome long-standing ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Despite the continued bombings and other attacks, Iraqis have not returned to the sectarian warfare that killed tens of thousands of people as violence peaked in 2006-2007. Shiite militias have shown restraint even as a spate of bombings targeted Shiite pilgrims, shrines and government leaders.

And as al-Sadr, an anti-U.S. cleric whose militias were responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks of the war, seeks to secure his status as a major political player in Iraq, it's doubtful he will unleash his followers in widespread violence that would undermine his credibility across the mostly-Sunni Arab world.

Even al-Maliki's opponents speak only of ousting him in a parliamentary vote, not by force.

"People now know that violence will breed violence and sectarian killings will lead to more counter-sectarian killings," said Omar al-Jubouri, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqiya bloc.

Underscoring the continued dangers, however, the month ended with a pair of bombings Saturday in the northern, Sunni-dominated Nivevah province, killing two soldiers on separate security patrols, local officials said.

Many Iraqis lament the withdrawal of U.S. forces, saying it was premature.

"The U.S. pullout was a mistake because the country is still in need for their intelligence and military capabilities," said Mohammed Salam, a Sunni government employee in Baghdad. "The Iraqi government should have kept some several thousands of U.S. troops in order to help Iraq forces maintain a reasonable level of security."

The international community spent billions of dollars to stabilize Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed during the war.

But the U.S. currently has limited influence in Baghdad: A June 14 statement by the top national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden that urged Iraqi officials to "alleviate current tensions in order to refocus energy on critical state-building challenges" produced few, if any, signs of progress.

Nor do most Iraqis expect any.

"I think Iraq will see worse days in the future if the politicians continue their destructive feuds and keep following their personal ambitions," Salam said.

Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report. Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at www.twitter.com/larajakesAP and Kay Johnson at www.twitter.com/kayatAP

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