People consider fleeing as violence increases

BAGHDAD, 19 January 2012 (IRIN) - Suicide attacks, assassinations and bombings in Iraq have claimed the lives of at least 265 people and injured hundreds of others since 18 December, the date the USA withdrew all but 200 of its troops from the country, according to the health and interior ministries.

The wave of attacks, carried out mainly by Sunni extremists from Al-Qaeda in Iraq against Shia communities, has alarmed many who fear the country could descend into chaos once more, with the government itself acknowledging it is not capable of ensuring security on its own.

The attacks also come as political factions are at loggerheads over how to reach a power-sharing deal. The Sunni community is complaining that it is being marginalized by the Shia-led government, which recently issued arrest warrants against Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi and other politicians for allegedly operating death squads.

Many fear the current violence could send the country back to the days of 2006-07 when Shia-Sunni conflict left thousands of people dead and millions of others displaced. A few families have already packed their bags and others are contemplating leaving.

Here is how some Iraqis are feeling:

Sultan Abdul-Latif Ibrahim, a 55-year-old father of six from the Shia Shabak minority in the northern province of Ninevah: "I lost 10 of my relatives since [the US-led invasion in] 2003... We used to live in the provincial capital, Mosul, for years with Sunnis and Christians. But in 2007 we were forced out of our houses by Sunni extremists who blew up our homes. Since then, we have been living in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Mosul. Last Monday [16 January] our camp was attacked by a parked car bomb, killing eight people, including six of my relatives. I wish to die now rather than later. We can't bear the hardships we are going through every day. We, the Shia, are facing constant threats by Sunni extremists who want to eliminate us and there is no place to go. I can't afford to move with my family to another place."

Hassan Abdul-Mahdi, a 35-year-old Sunni businessman and father of three from Baghdad: "Iraq today is just like Iraq after the toppling of the previous regime. There is one group that wants to dominate and impose its control on the country. Today, the Shia-led government and politicians who control the security forces have started to hunt down Sunni leaders and political figures to bite them one by one using different means... I'm contemplating leaving Iraq as the situation seems to be getting worse."

Jandak Youssif, a 46-year-old Christian from Baghdad: "The situation is getting worse day by day, and the government doesn't care about our suffering and needs. Our economy is stagnant; illiteracy and unemployment are prevalent; decent public services are not available; and people are leaving the country due to the security situation and religious discrimination. Christians are being attacked and no-one is campaigning for their rights. We are not seeing any improvement in any aspect of our life. My family is scattered in many parts of the world; my parents and brother are stuck in Syria waiting to be relocated to a third country. I have three sisters in Denmark, one in the Netherlands and two in Ninevah Province. Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world but we are the worst in terms of corruption, unemployment and illiteracy."

Examples of recent violence

16 January: Two car bombs targeted a camp for displaced Shabak in the northern province of Ninevah and a commercial area in the central province of Babil, killing 11 and wounding 21.

14 January: A bomb attack against Shia pilgrims in the southern province of Basra killed 53 and injured 130. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

10 January: A wave of bombs and assassinations nationwide killed 10 people. The targets were government officials, security forces and Shia pilgrims.

9 January: Three car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing 17 and wounding dozens.

5 January: A wave of bombings targeted Shia Muslims in Baghdad and other provinces heading on foot to the revered city of Karbala to mark the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein. Seventy-eight people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

22 December: A string of coordinated bombs tore through mainly Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad, killing 69 and injuring nearly 200. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks.

18 December: The USA pulled the last of its combat forces out of Iraq, leaving only 200 for training and diplomatic protection.