With nearly 1,000 people killed in Iraq last month, the country is returning to levels of violence last seen in the Sunni-Shia civil war five years ago. Most of those who are dying are Shia civilians hit by bombs targeting funerals and markets to ensure the maximum bloodshed. More than 5,000 people have been killed since April.
The numbers are horrendous, yet the outside world pays little attention, treating violence in Iraq as if it was an inescapable part of the local landscape. Aside from an occasional comment from Tony Blair maintaining that Iraq is doing nicely, international leaders keep an embarrassed silence over a country about whose future they once claimed to be so concerned that they sent their soldiers to occupy it.
Iraq is so violent because the war that started with the invasion of 2003 has never ended. It has got worse since 2011 because the Syrian conflict has strengthened al-Qa’ida in Iraq and the Levant, which is carrying out the bombing campaign, and now controls large stretches of territory in northern Syria. Meanwhile, inside Iraq, the Shia-dominated government has failed to conciliate the Sunni minority which has been making increasingly vociferous protests against persecution and discrimination. So now al-Qa’ida can look for support from the Sunni of northern and central Iraq who see the government in Baghdad as an irreconcilable enemy.
The Iraqi government is much to blame; incompetence and corruption have enfeebled its vast but dysfunctional security apparatus. But the only way to ensure the slaughter in Iraq does not escalate into another round of sectarian cleansing is to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria.