DUBAI, 28 April 2014 (IRIN) – As Iraq prepares to hold its first election since the withdrawal of US troops in late 2011, the country is struggling to contain increasing sectarian violence which some fear could push it back down the road towards civil war.
Suicide bombers and gunmen have been targeting party rallies, government buildings, polling stations, religious sites and universities, as well as indiscriminately striking at markets, restaurants and residential areas.
In the western province of Anbar, government forces are shelling the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in a bid to counter what they say is an Islamist insurgency.
This has triggered the displacement of nearly 440,000 people within four months, sparking a humanitarian crisis to which under-funded agencies are struggling to respond due to lack of funding and a worsening security situation.
According to Iraq Body Count, a UK-based independent tracking database, 863 people were killed between 1 and 26 April, while the overall death toll since the beginning of the year is rapidly approaching 4,000.
Although the current death rate is still well short of the 2,000-a-month seen at the height of the al-Qaeda insurgency in 2006, it is the highest it has been for six years – fuelling fears that the violence will only increase after the 30 April elections as the various political blocs vie for influence and power.
A number of respected commentators, including David Ignatius, an associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post, and veteran British foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn are now starting to ask if the country is heading back to civil war…