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Politics the key to curbing spike in Iraq unrest
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) June 01, 2013

More than 1,000 people killed in May Iraq violence: UN
Baghdad (AFP) June 01, 2013 - A wave of violence in Iraq that has raised fears of a return to all-out sectarian strife killed more than 1,000 people in May, the United Nations said on Saturday.

Over the course of the month, 1,045 people were killed and 2,397 wounded in unrest across the country, it said.

Although the violence in Iraq has fallen from its peak during the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, when well over 1,000 people sometimes died per month, the death toll has begun to rise again.

The country has seen a heightened level of violence since the start of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among Iraqi Sunnis that erupted into protests in late December.

Members of the Sunni minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until Saddam Hussein's overthrow by US-led forces in 2003, accuse the Shiite-led government in Baghdad of marginalising and targeting their community.

The government has made some concessions aimed at placating protesters and Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, but underlying issues have yet to be addressed.

Iraq says Qaeda poison gas cell busted in Baghdad
Baghdad (AFP) June 01, 2013 - Iraq's defence ministry said on Saturday it has broken up an Al-Qaeda cell that was working to produce poison gas for attacks within the country as well as in Europe and North America.

The group of five people built two facilities in Baghdad to produce sarin and mustard gas, using instructions from another Al-Qaeda group, spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told a news conference.

The members of the cell were prepared to launch attacks domestically, and also had a network to smuggle the toxins to neighbouring countries, and further afield to Europe and North America, Askari said.

The arrest of the cell members was possible because of cooperation between Iraqi and foreign intelligence services, he added.

The United Nations said last month that sarin nerve gas may have been used by rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.

Iraq and Syria share a 600-kilometre (375-mile) border, and officials have warned that Al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militants opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad have set up camp in Iraq's western desert region.

Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq is still active in the country, launching regular attacks on government and civilian targets.

So far, the group has largely refrained from waging violence outside Iraq, but earlier this year it publicly said it was linked to Syria's Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group fighting the Assad regime.

Saddam Hussein's forces used poison gas to attack the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, killing an estimated 5,000 people.

Iraqi authorities must tackle underlying political issues to curb violence that has killed more than 600 people in May, and avoid approaching it as just a security problem, experts and officials say.

The government has failed to stem the spike in violence, which has killed more than 1,000 people in two months and comes amid widespread discontent among the Sunni minority and a series of long-running political disputes.

Experts say the anger among Iraq's Sunnis that exploded into protests last December is the main factor behind the surge in violence.

Serious engagement with demonstrators is therefore a key part of any solution.

"The government should genuinely (take) steps toward the negotiation with the street, with the protesters," Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group said.

Instead, authorities have treated the unrest as a security issue, which has only helped to fuel the cycle of violence, she added.

John Drake, an Iraq specialist with risk consulting firm AKE Group, agreed that more security forces operations and arrests would make things worse.

"Engagement and dialogue would likely be the most effective way to tackle the violence," he said.

But so far, Baghdad's response has largely been limited to actions by security forces, a shakeup of senior officers, and announcing a series of vague new measures related to security.

Discontent has been growing among the Sunni minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until US-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, bringing the Shiite majority to power.

Sunnis say the Shiite authorities have politically marginalised their community and targeted them with unwarranted arrests and spurious terrorism charges.

Demonstrations first broke out in Sunni-majority areas in late December.

But when security forces raided a protest site in April, sparking clashes that killed dozens of people, tensions soared even higher.

While the government has made some concessions aimed at placating protesters and Iraqi Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Al-Qaeda Sunni fighters, underlying issues have yet to be addressed.

And myriad long-running political disputes between leading politicians are not making things easier.

Some of these are linked to Iraqi Sunnis' grievances, while others stem from issues ranging from control of territory to power-sharing.

Analysts often link political stability in Iraq with levels of violence, arguing that militants capitalise on political disputes to gain support for their activities.

But efforts to resolve political differences have so far been unsuccessful.

"If there is a political agreement, then security will be better. We see it on the contrary right now -- there is no political agreement, and sectarian violence is on the rise," said UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler.

"Sectarian violence will be on the decline if there is a political agreement," he said.

Crispin Hawes, the Middle East and North Africa director for the Eurasia Group consultancy, said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is unlikely to make any sweeping concessions to Iraqi Sunnis.

"The Iraqi government's approach to this is to... view this as a technical, tactical security problem, and which is obviously part of any solution," Hawes said.

"But the fact is this is obviously a political problem, and the political problem has been... to a great extent deliberately precipitated by the government."

Baghdad may "make marginal concessions to elements within the Sunni Arab political organisations," which could have some impact on the security situation, he said.

But Maliki "clearly has no desire to make concessions in a way that would bring the Sunni Arab community back into the broader political environment in Iraq. He's clearly taken the decision that he wants to exclude them," he said.


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Iraq violence kills scores as UN envoy urges dialogue
Baghdad (AFP) May 29, 2013
Violence in Iraq killed 27 people on Tuesday, officials said, as the country's cabinet discussed how to curb unrest that has left over 500 dead this month and raised fears of all-out sectarian conflict. The latest deaths led the UN envoy to Iraq to urge feuding political leaders to meet and resolve long-running crises that have paralysed the government and been blamed for its inability to ha ... read more

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