Increased Assassinations in Iraq Suggest Possible Slide Back to Civil War

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The latest bombings and shootings in Baghdad on Sunday left at least 17 Iraqis dead. Two U.S. soldiers also died in this spasm of violence, the first soldiers to be killed in combat in Iraq this month. Assassinations are now on the rise in Iraq, according to new data.

News clips seem to suggest a recent uptick in sectarian violence in Iraq from Baghdad up to Kirkuk and spreading throughout Diyala province, where members of the so-called Sons of Iraq are no longer getting paychecks from the United States and may be drifting back to al-Qaeda’s ranks.

The violence could foreshadow Iraq’s slide back towards civil war as the United States prepares to withdraw combat troops by the end of the year. Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution says he sees signs of an “escalating sectarian dyanamic” in Iraq. “This is what led to civil war in 2005, 2006 and 2007,” he warned. O’Hanlon says the oil-rich and heavily contested city of Kirkuk is most worrisome.

The increasing prevalence of targeted assassination is the latest twist on the spiraling violence. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported on this wave of assassinations in its quarterly report released last month.

 Although violence has declined over the past four years, the (government of Iraq) has had little reprieve from attacks apparently aimed at disrupting its operations. Mass-casualty attacks like the bombings of market places in 2006 and 2007 and government buildings in 2008 and 2009 occur much less frequently and are less lethal. But what appears to be a campaign of intimidation and assassination of government officials has been gaining ground.

This quarter, high-ranking military and ministerial officials were again targeted for assassination, and many attempts were successful.

The report goes on to say that the Feb. 8, 2011 assassination of an Iraqi brigadier general was on of more than 25 successful assassinations of high-ranking Iraqi government officials since January.