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Iraq Bombarded by Deadly Sectarian Violence in Bloodiest Month Since 2008

May 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to Iraq, where the country just had its deadliest month in nearly five years. Ray Suarez reports on the recent surge in violence and what’s behind it.

RAY SUAREZ: Twisted wreckage and shattered glass strewn across central Iraq, the aftermath of all-too-familiar bombings. Four coordinated attacks Monday in four Shiite cities south of Baghdad killed more than 35 people. Multiple attacks yesterday killed 22 more.

MAN: Do Allah and Prophet Mohammed accept this? No one is safe. You do not know if you will come back to a house or not when you go to work.

RAY SUAREZ: The attacks, dozens in the last month, are the most serious spasm of violence since American troops left nearly 18 months ago. Today, the United Nations mission in Iraq said April was the deadliest month since June 2008. More than 700 people were killed, almost all in Baghdad. Nearly 600 were civilians.

Coupled with the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in neighboring Syria, all this has rekindled fears of sectarian war in Iraq. Years of such violence tore the country apart after the American invasion, and killed tens of thousands.

MAN: The explosions have escalated nowadays in the south and the middle of the country, especially since Hawijah events, when the Iraqi troops stormed a protest site.

RAY SUAREZ: That attack in Hawijah by the predominantly Shiite security forces last week resulted in 20 dead Sunni protesters. They had set up camp about 100 miles north of Baghdad to oppose what they saw as the increasingly sectarian bent of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government.

A string of bombings followed the Hawijah attack. Sunni militants skirmished with security forces, and the telltale car bombings of al-Qaida in Iraq ramped up. But another group is also coming to the fore. The Men of the Army of the Naqshbandi Order, known by its Arabic acronym, JRTN, is a Sufi Islamist militant group.

The group was formed after Saddam Hussein’s execution in late 2006. One of its strongholds is Hawijah. JRTN is allegedly headed by the highest-ranking Saddam aide to elude capture, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. He was the king of clubs in the U.S. military’s famous deck of cards of wanted Iraqis.

Last week, Prime Minister Maliki sought to tamp down the sectarian fervor, now rife in Syria, and again threatening Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraq: I can honestly say that, if the sectarian sedition bursts, there will not be a winner or a loser. All of us will be losers, whether those who are in the south or in the north, in the east or west of the country. Let those who foment sectarianism, whether they are from inside or outside the country, be ready to burn themselves in the fire of sectarian strife.

RAY SUAREZ: On Monday, Iraq’s Media Commission took what it said was a step to end that strife. It suspended licenses for 10 satellite channels.

SALEM MASHKOUR, Iraq Communications and Media Commission: We had direct meetings with the channels’ administrations and we asked them to change their language, taking a stand against those who call for violence, sectarian strife and sectarian killing. They were calling for direct killing recently, so this is inconsistent with the norms and standards adopted by free press in most democracies.

RAY SUAREZ: Most were Sunni-affiliated operations. The commission is powerless, however, to stop broadcasts altogether.