July Was Iraq's Deadliest Month In Five Years

Melissa Block talks to Tim Arango, Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times, about increasing violence in Iraq.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's been an increasingly bloody season in Iraq. July was the deadliest month in five years with more than 1,000 people killed in attacks. And to make things worse, hundreds of inmates escaped after al-Qaida's arm in Iraq launched coordinated assaults on two prisons near Baghdad. For more on the Iraqi security situation, I'm joined by Tim Arango. He's Baghdad bureau chief with The New York Times. Tim, welcome to the program.

TIM ARANGO: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Help us understand, first off, who is doing the killing and who is being targeted?

ARANGO: Most of the attacks are attributed to al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group, and most of the targets are in Shia neighborhoods and Shia pilgrims and, you know, Shia citizens going about their daily business. Of course, not all of the violence is attributed to al-Qaida. There are many armed groups here, including Shia groups, including mafia-like groups that carry out assassinations. So there's sort of a hodgepodge, but I think the bulk of the - what people call the spectacular attacks are carried out by the al-Qaida affiliate in Iraq.

BLOCK: From the way you're describing it, it sounds like this is not exactly the same as the sectarian bloodshed, the Shia versus Sunni bloodshed that we saw earlier in the Iraq war, or is it much the same?

ARANGO: No, it is quite different. It's - obviously, a lot of it is sectarian in nature in that Sunni groups are targeting Shias, but we're not seeing the sorts of violence from '06 and '07 when it was almost an all-out sectarian civil war with death squads and with revenge killings. We're not seeing that largely because the Shia population is not - you know, they're patient. They're not fighting back. They control the government, and so there isn't this sense that there's much upside for them to go out like they used to and have these tit-for-tat killings.

BLOCK: When you think about the strength of al-Qaida in Iraq and what's been happening over the last couple of years, how does the war across the border in Syria play into that?

ARANGO: It plays into it a great deal. You see some of the most extreme groups in Syria, the Nusra Front, and there's this new umbrella group called Iraq - al-Qaida in Iraq in Syria that are sort of operating over there. And a lot of those groups have actually been fostered by al-Qaida in Iraq, so this gives them a sort of new reason for being - more funding.

And what's - the result has been a strengthening of the insurgency on both sides of the border in Iraq and in Syria.

BLOCK: Well, Tim, what about the role of the Iraqi security forces since the U.S. withdrawal? How are they seen by the Iraqi people?

ARANGO: They're increasingly seen as incapable of securing the country, and so you see a rising anger among the population against the security forces. There's been longstanding questions about their capabilities, and I think those have been - come even more to the fore in the wake of the withdrawal of the U.S. troops because you don't have that cooperation anymore, and they were cooperating with the U.S. military on intelligence matters, and you had U.S. special forces up until the end of the military role here.

BLOCK: For Iraqis in general, Tim, as the violence ramps up again, some 1,000 people killed last month alone, how does that affect daily life?

ARANGO: That's a good question. If you just showed up here and drove around Baghdad and didn't have a lot of experience here and you just saw the streets being filled and you saw kids out and you saw cafes filled, you would - it would be a shock to you when you compare that to the news. But the truth is, Iraqis have been, you know, they've become accustomed to this, and there's a sense of fate to it.

And that's not to say that there isn't a rising level of fear right now. You do hear people say that they avoid certain areas, particularly over the last several weeks, but then, you know, there is this sense that they just have to go and live their lives. One Iraqi man said to me, and I thought it was quite interesting and poignant, he was describing, you know, Iraqi daily life and he said, you know, you get up, you have breakfast, and there's a car bomb, then you have lunch and then you go on with your day.

It's remarkable, too, if you go to these neighborhoods after bombings and see how quickly they return to life. I mean, I've been to some and written stories about how neighborhoods come back so quickly. By the afternoon, if a bombing strikes in the morning, you'll see the barber has already fitted a new mirror on his wall and they're cutting hair again. You'll see the bakery open up. It's - you know, they're just so accustomed to it.

BLOCK: Tim Arango is Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times. Tim, thanks very much.

ARANGO: Happy to do it. Thank you.

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