A flood of sectarian killings and religiously fuelled attacks has pushed Iraq to a new low in recent weeks. Nearly 2,000 people have died in violence since April, prompting fears of a return to the bloodshed of 2006. But one piece of news offers a glimmer of hope that Iraq may be poised to return to stability.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for an end to sanctions imposed two decades ago. The move would return Iraq to a level of international legitimacy, at least on paper, and allow for more autonomy over its finances. In theory these would be welcome changes. It's the practice we wonder about.
Ever since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq has teetered between complete ungovernability and democratic authoritarianism. Some of these periods of instability were the direct result of American mismanagement - the disbanding of the Iraqi military after Saddam Hussein's ouster, for instance. More recently it has been the dictatorial style of the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, that has crippled Iraq's progress.
The sanctions imposed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter came after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990; some have since been lifted, but the sanctions that remain place restrictions on weapon deals and certain financial transactions. Mr Ban recommended that the outstanding obligations should instead be solved under Chapter 6, which stipulates that countries should solve their differences peacefully.
Kuwait has consistently opposed lifting the sanctions as Iraq has failed to pay its dues. Iraq owes $11 billion (Dh40 billion) in reparations to Kuwait. Beyond money, other issues complicate the conditions, including the fate of missing people and prisoners of war, the return of stolen property and maritime border disputes.
Following a similar call in 2009, Kuwait exerted itself diplomatically to prevent the lifting of sanctions. But four years later, the two countries have made little progress to put an end to this saga. Before the Arab summit in Baghdad last year, for example, the two countries signalled they were close to resolving their differences. It is past time they do.
Kuwait and other Gulf states have assisted Iraq in its post-war recovery; bringing an end to economically painful sanctions would be another step towards Iraq's recovery. Given the toxicity of Iraq's political and security climate, any chance at change must be enthusiastically embraced.