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FEAR FACTOR

Barely six months after the American security forces departed from Iraq, the country seems to be sinking into a cesspool of violence and political chaos. June has been a particularly violent month, reportedly claiming more than 200 lives in suicide bombings. But the violence has been on the rise for months now. It is easy to blame the increasing violence — targetting mostly Shia sites and pilgrims — on the security vacuum left after the troop pullout by the United States of America, and the assumption may not be entirely wrong. There is a palpable sense of insecurity which has been heightened by the ease with which the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq, much weakened during the US operation, has been able to coalesce and draw into its fold other Sunni terror formations to wreak havoc. But it would be wrong to assume that things started to fall apart the moment US forces withdrew. Political uncertainty is a major cause behind the resurgence of violence, and this has not hit Iraq straight out of the blue. Ever since the 2010 elections, the minority Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki has been struggling to contain the restive Sunni and Kurdish factions within the government. However, his attempts to centralize control have left the Sunni majority and the Kurds disenchanted. Recent events, especially the threat to arrest the Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, on terrorism charges, have aggravated matters. Mr al-Maliki also seems to have lost the support of a powerful Shia faction led by Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called for his resignation.

Mr al-Maliki has threatened early elections, but given the political rifts, that may not resolve matters. Since politicians across the board are aware of how extremists are using violence to widen the sectarian divide and hence weaken Iraq’s fledgling democracy, they should break the political stalemate and give people the confidence to push back the wave of terror as they have done before.