Iraq’s worst surge in sectarian violence since 2008, fueled by protracted political disputes, makes the first parliamentary election since the U.S.-led occupation anything but promising. Over the last year, Islamic militants have targeted officials from the Shiite Muslim-led government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is poised to win a third term in Wednesday’s balloting. In turn, government security forces have struck back. The United Nations says at least 8,868 people, 88% of them civilians, were killed in 2013, the highest toll in five years. The pace has continued in the first two months of this year, when about 1,400 were killed in attacks that have occurred nearly on a daily basis.
One attack killed 28 when the Islamic State of the Iraq and Syria, a Sunni Muslim militant group that is loyal to Al Qaeda, detonated two bombs on April 25 at a political rally staged by the Sadiqun bloc, the political wing of the Shiite Asaib Ahel al-Haq, or League of the Righteous. Fears abound that violence will overshadow the election and plunge Iraq into the kind of violence typical of 2006-08, when U.S. troops were still confronting militants.
That civil strife came after the Sunni Arab minority had boycotted the 2005 election, the first after the fall of Sunni autocrat Saddam Hussein two years earlier. When a Shiite-dominated government assumed power, many Sunni dissidents formed the main part of the insurgency.
The violence led then-President Bush to send more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, beginning in 2007. The so-called surge strategy was generally seen as successful in reducing sectarian violence.