Even before the last US troops left in December 2011, American interest in Iraq was fading sharply. The political turmoil in Egypt, the Syrian Civil War and the wider Arab Spring events have all overshadowed a growing terrorist insurgency within Iraq. It is all too common to see 30 people killed a day by car bombs and targeted shootings, and with a death toll of over 1,000 July 2013 was the deadliest since the tail end of the 2006-2008 civil war according to the UN. The recent surge of violence and the increasingly coordinated nature of such attacks has prompted the Iraqi Interior Ministry to declare the country has entered into an “open war“. Even Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has acknowledged the severity of the situation and he has recently called for security assistance in response to the growing sectarian crisis. Security forces are unable to effectively curb the increasing threat from extremists and recent events have further deepened the conflict.
The siege that freed hundreds of prisoners on July 22nd, including al-Qaida senior leaders, from the infamous Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons has further highlighted the fact that the perpetrators, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has consolidated and redoubled their efforts against the Iraqi State. ISIL is an al-Qaida affiliate which has claimed the lion’s share of responsibility for the coordinated bombings and killings that frequently target security forces and Iraqi Shi’a across the country. ISIL is also active in Syria and together with al-Nusra, another al-Qaida linked Islamist militant group, they have been growing in their fight against Bashar al-Assad. Furthermore, they have been cited as more effective in fighting the army in comparison to more moderate groups of the Free Syrian Army due to their more extensive past military experience in the region.
The effects of the Syrian War coupled with the instability in Iraq have not often been analyzed as a singular problem, but perhaps that perspective should be more seriously considered as such. The Syrian Civil War surpassed the scope of the Libyan Civil War in number of people killed months ago but Iraq is an even larger and arguably more divisive state than even Syria. Additionally, the unique situation in Syria has attracted more international jihadists and militants than perhaps any conflict before, from Iran and Hezbollah to North Africa and the Caucasus.
If the extremists were to be shut out of a future political stake in Syria, then what is to stop them from either carrying out a similar insurgency in Syria or intensifying their campaign against the Shi’a-led government state in Iraq? How many more attacks can the mainstream Iraqi Shi’a community withstand before more militants rise up to take action into their own hands?
At this rate, Iraq is slowly approaching another sectarian war that could be bloodier, more devastating to the region and much more difficult to end than the last.