Resurgent Wave Of Violence Floods Iraq

It's been a weekend of horrific violence in Iraq, and September had the highest number of civilian deaths since the U.S. withdrawal. Host Arun Rath speaks with Adam Schreck, Baghdad bureau chief for The Associated Press, about the on-going sectarian violence there.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

From NPR West, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath.

It has been a weekend of horrific violence in Iraq. This morning in the north, a dozen or so children were killed by a suicide bomber at an elementary school; at least 80 more people were wounded. While yesterday, a series of bombings left 80 people dead in attacks around the country. According to the U.N., September was a deadly month for people in Iraq with the highest number of civilian deaths since the U.S. withdrawal.

Adam Schreck is the bureau chief for the Associated Press in Baghdad. He spoke with me about the resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq. Adam, thank you for joining us.

ADAM SCHRECK: Thanks for having me.

RATH: Can you break down the spike in violence, you know, just how violent has it become in Iraq compared to the past and why?

SCHRECK: Violence in Iraq has been on the increase really since probably the second half of last year, but things have really picked up significantly in the past few months. Last month, the United Nations mission to Iraq said 979 people were killed. The vast majority of the people were civilians. That was just one month. Now, those numbers are certainly not quite as big as what we saw at the peak of the sectarian killing in Iraq in 2006, 2007. However, they are a lot bigger than what we've seen in recent years.

RATH: Do we have a sense of the role that al-Qaida is playing in the violence now?

SCHRECK: Well, al-Qaida is certainly responsible for a lot of the killing that we've seen in Iraq. I mean, the sort of violence people are used to hearing about - car bombings, suicide bombings, large scale attacks that target civilian areas - those are most often the work of al-Qaida.

RATH: And during the war, you know, one of the most celebrated moments was obviously the surge that took place along with what they called the Anbar Awakening and the Sunni Awakening. And at that time, there were local Iraqis who joined up with America to drive out al-Qaida. So is all that - was that work sort of coming undone now?

SCHRECK: It's a bit difficult to say, but certainly what's clear is that al-Qaida is a resurgent in Iraq now. They do seem to be getting stronger. They are able to carry out larger attacks, more frequent attacks. It's hard to describe one reason for that, but certainly al-Qaida is becoming more resurgent.

RATH: What about the situation in Syria? How is that affecting things?

SCHRECK: Well, certainly what happens in Syria is watched very closely by Iraqis. Iraq and Syria share a very long and porous border. So what we've seen over the past several months is fighters from Iraq traveling to Syria. In some cases, weapons and fighters from Syria coming back across the border to Iraq. It's a very tough border to control. There are centuries-old tribal affiliations, smuggling routes, trade routes that cross these borders. These countries are very, very closely linked.

RATH: Do you have a sense of how the relationship with the U.S. is viewed to the Iraqis now in 2013?

SCHRECK: You know, when the U.S. left in 2011, a lot of people were happy about that. That said, the U.S. did also play sort of a buffer role between the different factions within Iraq. I mean, I wouldn't say that the - that most Iraqis would want the U.S. military back, but I think there is a sense among a lot of Iraqis that the U.S. is at least responsible for helping to unleash the effects of what we've seen in terms of sectarian conflict in the country.

At the same time, it's also important to remember, though, that Iraq has been a country that's been in various states of war for several decades, not all of them related directly to the U.S. This country has been sort of in a war footing, and that's had a psychological effect on the population for several decades here.

RATH: Adam Schreck is the Baghdad bureau chief for the Associated Press. Adam, thanks for joining me.

SCHRECK: Thanks again for having me.

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