x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Iraq bombings prompt warnings of full-blown sectarian conflict

Violence in Iraq has increased as the civil war in Syria puts a strain on fragile relations between Sunnis and Shiites.

BAGHDAD // At least 15 people were killed in a series of bomb blasts across Iraq yesterday, following a sharp increase in violence that has prompted warnings of a full-blown sectarian conflict.

Violence in Iraq has increased as the civil war in Syria puts a strain on fragile relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Tensions are at their highest in Iraq since US troops pulled out more than a year ago.

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest detonated himself in the midst of a group of government-backed Sunni fighters who were collecting their salaries east of the city of Fallujah, killing six, police said.

In Baiji, 180 kilometres north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed four policemen. A car bomb in a Shiite district in northeastern Baghdad killed at least three people and wounded 14. Another car bomb north of the city of Ramadi killed two policemen and wounded another 10.

Iraq is home to a number of Sunni insurgent groups, including a local Al Qaeda affiliate that has launched frequent attacks to undermine the Shiite-led government and provoke wider confrontation.

Violence is still well below the height it reached in 2006-07, but provisional figures indicate the violent death toll last month, which numbered 460, was the highest since 2009.

The majority of lasty month's deaths came during a wave of unrest that began near the end of the month when security forces moved on Sunni anti-government protesters in north Iraq, sparking clashes that killed 53 people.

Dozens more people died in subsequent violence that included revenge attacks on security forces, raising fears of a return to the all-out sectarian conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives in Iraq from 2006 to 2008.

The demonstrations erupted in Sunni areas of Shiite-majority Iraq more than four months ago.

Among the dead last month were 54 police, 53 soldiers, 14 Sahwa anti-Qaeda militiamen, and two members of Kurdish security forces.

The wounded included 171 police, 76 soldiers, eight Sahwa fighters and five Kurdish security members.

The majority of the rest of those killed and wounded were civilians, although the figures also include some gunmen who died or were injured in clashes with security forces.

In March, 271 people were killed and 906 wounded in violence, though those figures only included security forces and civilians.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse