JNN 3 June 2013 BAGHDAD – More than 1,000 people were killed in violence in Iraq in May, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07, the United Nations reported on Saturday, stoking fears of a return to civil war.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in the last two months as Al-Qaeda and insurgents, invigorated by the Sunni-led revolt in Syria and by Sunni discontent at home, seek to revive the kind of all-out inter-communal conflict that killed tens of thousands five years ago.
“That is a sad record,” Martin Kobler, the UN envoy in Baghdad, said in a statement. “Iraqi political leaders must act immediately to stop this intolerable bloodshed.”
This week multiple bombings battered Shia and Sunni areas of the capital Baghdad, killing nearly 100 people. Most of the 1,045 people killed in May were civilians, UN figures showed.
The UN toll is higher than a Reuters estimate of 600 deaths based on police and hospital officials. Such counts can vary depending on sourcing, while numbers often increase beyond initial estimates as wounded people die.
The renewed bloodletting reflects worsening tensions between Iraq’s government and the Sunni minority, seething with resentment at their treatment since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and later hanged.
At the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence, when Baghdad was carved up between gunmen who preyed on rival communities, the monthly death count sometimes topped 3,000.
Officials in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government say Al-Qaeda’s wing, Islamic State of Iraq, and Naqshbandi insurgents linked to ex-officers in Saddam’s army, are now trying to provoke a militia reaction.
Security officials believe militias such as Mehdi Army, Asaib al-Haq and Kataeb Hizballah have mostly kept out of the fray. But militia commanders say they are prepared to act.
SLIDE INTO CONFLICT
Since April, bombings and attacks have targeted Shia and Sunni mosques and neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities, as well as security forces and even moderate Sunni leaders.
Many Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, fear a return of death squads, with shops closing early and extra security measures.
“Shia groups have largely stayed out of recent violence. If they are behind bombings of Sunni mosques, that suggests that they are being drawn into conflict,” said Stephen Wicken, at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
“That would set the conditions up for a slide into broader sectarian conflict.”
Syria’s war, where mostly Sunni rebels are trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, has further frayed ties between Iraqis. Iraqi fighters from both sects are crossing the border to fight for opposite sides in Syria