Iraq faces growing violence as political rift deepens

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BAGHDAD: The threat of worsening violence looms over Baghdad again this week, underscoring the challenges faced by influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of parliament’s biggest bloc, in his stated efforts to form a majority government following October’s contested election.
In the latest in a number of attacks to hit the Iraqi capital in just a matter of days, twin explosions late on Sunday targeted two banks associated with Kurdish politicians in central Baghdad’s Karrada district, leaving two people wounded.
It came two days after a hand grenade was thrown at the headquarters of the Taqaddum party, which is led by parliament’s Speaker Mohammed Halbousi. Hours later, a similar attack hit the office of Khamis al-Khanjar, another Sunni politician.
And on January 13, a rocket attack targeting the US embassy in the highly fortified Green Zone wounded several civilians, including a child and a woman.
There has been no claim of responsibility for any of these attacks, which came days after the newly elected parliament’s first session on January 8, during which chaos reigned and physical altercations broke out. The dramatic meeting, which saw Halbousi reelected thanks to support from the Sadrist Movement and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – despite strong objection by al-Sadr’s opponents – inaugurated what is expected to be a long period of political wrangling to pick a new president and prime minister.
Analysts say the escalation tests the limits of al-Sadr’s bid to create a government that would, to a certain extent, steer away from the ethno-sectarian power-sharing arrangement established after the United States-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Known as muhasasa, the system distributes power and state resources between Iraq’s three main religious and ethnic groups – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – but has been reviled by protesters who in recent years took to the streets to demand a complete overhaul of the country’s political system.
Since his strong election showing in October, al-Sadr has frequently reiterated his commitment to form a “national majority government”, essentially sidelining the Shia Coordination Framework that includes figures such as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, one of Sadr’s old foes, and the Fatah alliance, the political bloc that houses the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces and which suffered a devastating loss in the elections.