STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Regular listeners to this program know we are using numbers to highlight some of the stories of 2013. And today, we look at the situation in Iraq. The number here is 6,639. That's how many people have been killed in violence in Iraq so far this year, up to December 21st, according to a regular tally kept by Baghdad bureau of the French Press Agency, AFP.
We're joined now by Will Dunlop, an AFP correspondent in Baghdad. Welcome to the program, sir.
WILL DUNLOP: Thank you.
INSKEEP: So, just give us a sense of what that number represents, 6,639.
DUNLOP: It ultimately represents this sharp increase in violence that Iraq has seen so far since the beginning of this year. They bring an average of more than 18 people killed each day since January. And the level of violence and the death tolls have now reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a fairly brutal period of sectarian killings.
The last time violence was this high, U.S. forces were near the peak of their power here. But now, Iraqi security forces - which face a variety of problems - are left to confront this violence alone.
INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned the last time it was this violent, U.S. forces were there. There was sectarian violence going on between Sunnis and Shias. Things improved for a while, now they've grown worse again. What is behind the violence this time around?
DUNLOP: The first thing and main factor is widespread discontent among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. Members of this community complain of being marginalized both economically and politically by Shia-led authorities(ph), and also of being unfairly targeted for extraordinarily heavy-handed tactics by security forces, such as mass arrests. And ultimately, that widespread discontent has eased recruitment from militant groups, also encouraged militant groups to carry out attacks, and ultimately increased passive tolerance of some such groups in Sunni areas, and decreased cooperation with security forces.
INSKEEP: You know, a year or two ago, we hearing accounts of life - maybe not normal life, but life returning to something closer to normal in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, even some of the security walls coming down, people out on the streets. How normal does life feel these days?
DUNLOP: Ultimately, Iraqis still have to go about their daily lives. There's effectively nothing we can do to avoid the type of violence that is most common, which are bombings, aside from staying in your home and never leaving. So Iraqis still have to work. They still have to buy groceries. They still go to mosques. But every time somebody ultimately steps out of their home, they're at risk of being killed by roadside bombs, by car bombs, by suicide bombers. They're carrying out attacks on a daily basis here.
INSKEEP: We understand that as we were arranging this call, there were power outages in Baghdad. How regular are city services at this point?
DUNLOP: It really varies by area and time. But ultimately, there's not 24-hour power. Many Iraqis have to supplement government-provided power with private generators - either buying generators themselves, or buying lines from local neighborhood generators.
INSKEEP: Are Iraqis also supplementing government security with private security?
DUNLOP: In some cases, yes. You'll see in some neighborhoods - especially after attacks - there have been local neighborhood watch, effectively, looking out for further threats of violence, maybe armed with assault rifles. I've seen them keeping watch over a funeral tent, where people were gathering to pay their respects for the victims of an attack the day before. So there definitely is increasing lack of trust in security forces to maintain security. And in some cases, people do take it upon themselves to supplement that with neighborhood security watches.
INSKEEP: Will Dunlop, of AFP in Baghdad, thanks very much.
DUNLOP: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Six thousand six hundred thirty-nine, the number of people killed in Iraq this year, up through December 21st.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.