by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) June 01, 2013
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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