Khalil al-Murshidi/AFP/Getty Images
An Iraqi man looks at a list of bombing victims posted outside a Baghdad hospital after a double suicide bombing on April 24. The attacks killed at least 60 people, many of them pilgrims from Iran.
An Iraqi man looks at a list of bombing victims posted outside a Baghdad hospital after a double suicide bombing on April 24. The attacks killed at least 60 people, many of them pilgrims from Iran. Khalil al-Murshidi/AFP/Getty Images
For a second day in a row, suicide bombers managed to inflict major carnage in Iraq. Two attackers blew themselves apart Friday at the gates of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and injuring at least 125 more.
Iraqi police say the blasts Friday in the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya mainly targeted Iranian pilgrims, who have been visiting Iraqi holy sites in increasing numbers as security has improved in recent months. Analysts see the attacks as an effort to rekindle the sectarian warfare that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead in 2006 and 2007.
Just a day earlier, bombers killed at least 89 people in two separate attacks, one in Baghdad and one in Iraq's northern Diyala province. Police say most of the victims in Diyala were Iranians.
Sectarian Conflict Never Resolved
Vali R. Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, says the continuing tension between Sunni and Shiite factions over the control of Iraq has prompted the renewed violence. "The sectarian issue was never fully resolved. We reached a truce, but the Iraqis didn't use the time to achieve a peaceful solution," he says.
Until the country can reach power-sharing arrangements among its ethnic Kurdish and its Shiite and Sunni Arab communities, Iraq remains vulnerable to attacks by al-Qaida and other militant groups, analysts say.
As al-Qaida has lost its ability to control territory, it has turned to high-profile attacks that can be used for fund-raising and recruitment among Muslim radicals, says Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
There's a danger to al-Qaida in this, Cordesman adds: "It may ultimately become counterproductive. It may create a climate of pointless violence and killing civilians that will alienate most of the Sunni population."
In the near term the bombings will probably continue "in some form, for the next two to three years," Cordesman says. He points out that bombers wearing suicide vests are difficult to detect wherever people move freely, and that al-Qaida can recruit attackers from vulnerable groups, "widows, people caught up in the honor code."
The violence could escalate if it starts to trigger revenge killings, he says.
Opportunities For Spoilers
Nasr says that if attacks continue, it could provide opportunities for "spoilers, such as Muqtada al-Sadr," the anti-American Shiite cleric whose militia has steadily lost power as security in Iraq has gotten better. Sadr's people were able to portray themselves as the defenders of Shiites during the last round of sectarian conflict.
Nasr notes that the violence comes as the government puts pressure on sheiks from the Sunni Awakening Councils, a U.S.-backed force of former insurgents who switched sides and helped drive al-Qaida from areas such as the western Anbar province and most major cities.
Sunni leaders of the movement are concerned that their leaders are being singled out for arrest by the Shiite-led government and that their chief ally, the American military, is slowly abandoning them.
The renewed bombings come as U.S. troops prepare to reduce their presence in Iraqi cities and withdraw to outlying bases.
"We have to watch how the Maliki government reacts, not just as an Iraqi government, but as a Shiite-led government," Nasr says. "This puts a lot of pressure on the government to do something."