BAGHDAD — Whenever he leaves his home, Mohammed Jabar, a Sunni Muslim, carries his cellphone so his family can find out quickly whether he is safe if a deadly bomb attack hits. Shukria Mahmud, another Sunni, rarely ventures from her house because of the rash of violence that is gripping Iraq.
Laith Hashim, a young Shiite Muslim, is considering moving away from Iraq if security continues to disintegrate. Such a breakdown, he fears, would spark a new round of bitter sectarian fighting of the kind that brought the nation to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.
Tensions simmer between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities, yet they share an increasingly widespread despair. Al-Qaida-style attacks are on the rise, faith in the government's ability to keep people safe is on the wane and a fatalistic acceptance of a life of fear is perniciously settling in.
Nine years after the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein — purging the leadership and military of his supporters and leading to a fight against insurgents in a bloody guerrilla war that left more than 100,000 dead — Iraq's outlook is increasingly bleak in summer 2012.
Instead of a Western-style democracy functioning in peace and cooperation, what's been left behind is dysfunctional and increasingly violent. Many of the attacks of the past month have targeted Shiites on annual religious pilgrimages, raising fears of a return to the deadly cycle of destructive violence between Sunni and Shiite communities.
"The Sunnis should be warned that there will be retaliation if the attacks against Shiites continue," Hashim, 18, said Wednesday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. The impoverished area in the capital's northeast is home to the Shiite Mahdi Army militia that battled al-Qaida during Iraq's darkest days between 2006 and 2008.
"Patience can't last forever," he warned.
Iraqi officials and experts say worries of an impending blowup is exactly what Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaida are banking on. Dozens of bloody bombings and drive-by shootings that have killed 286 people over the past four weeks, including 11 on Wednesday, bear the terrorist network's hallmarks.