by Thu Hang
Continuous bombing waves, terrorist attacks and daily casualties in Iraq have broken out again, sparking concerns that the country is teetering on the edge of another civil conflict, similar to the bloody civil war that raged from 2006-09, following the US occupation.
Analysts said that the most serious risks to Iraq's internal instability come from the overlapping and interacting effects of renewed ethnic or sectarian conflict and a breakdown of the current constitutional order.
In the wake of the US military withdrawal in December 2011, Iraq saw a fierce political struggle between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and many of his rivals in the Sunni-dominated Iraqi parliamentary coalition, plus increasing tension with at least some segments of the Kurdish minority.
Violence in Iraq has increased sharply since early 2013, after the minority Sunni community launched protests against the Shiite-led government. They said that the current government's implementation of the policy is to isolate and discriminate against them.
Citizens of the predominantly Shiite provinces in the south have taken to the streets in protest of Maliki and his government.
Maliki, who retains sole authority over the five relevant ministries governing internal security in Iraq, has clearly lost control, plunging the country into chaos.
According to UN statistics, since the beginning of 2013, more than 3,000 people have been killed in Iraq, marking a wave of bloody violence in Iraq over the past five years.
Particularly in July, more than 1,000 people were killed, and the month saw the highest number of casualties in Iraq since 2008.
In August, violence continued to increase during the month of Ramadan.
Progressions of suicide bombings have been happening on an almost daily basis across the country.
Oil pipelines have been attacked, forcing oil fields to miss production targets, increasing production costs and causing major setbacks in Baghdad's plan to become the top oil producer.
Such prospects would seriously threaten regional and international security and stability.
Amid fears neighboring Syria's conflict is spilling over into Iraq, violence has worsened nationwide to levels not seen since 2008.
Sunni Muslims who have ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed publicly that they would unite with Syria's insurgent forces against President Barsha al-Assad, inciting hatred towards Shiites.
The outgoing UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, has warned the security council that battlefields are merging with the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts. "These countries are interrelated," he was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
"Iraq is the fault line between the Shiite and Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq."
The recent cases of escaped prisoners, including many related to al-Qaeda, are also threatening Iraq's security.
Besides the tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites, the government also faces armed conflict with the autonomous Kurdish authorities over territory and petroleum resources.
The government is scrambling to contain the violence by putting more intelligence officers at checkpoints as a preliminary move. However, it seems unable to prevent the fighting. Failure to stop the wave of violence is causing Iraqis to lose confidence in the government.
People are very concerned that a bloody ethnic conflict could return to Iraq any time while the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis still continue to fight for power.
Many people believe that the US must take responsibility for the prolonged unrest in Iraq today. Ten years ago, under the excuse that Iraq was "stockpiling weapons of mass destruction", the US began its war in Iraq to ensure US interests in the region. But after 10 years, in addition to leaving behind a war exhausted nation, the US has pushed Iraq into a spiral of ethnic conflict.
In fact, after the complete withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, the US did not leave behind any "outstanding achievements" nor a stable sovereign state with a new government as they had promised. Over the past year, Iraq's current government has been unable to ensure security or put an end to the existence of terrorist organisations on its territory.
Meanwhile, Iraq's economy remains exhausted, with unemployment rising and corruption worsening. Almost across the country, the private sector economy is still limited. During the past 10 years, no new civic buildings were built, while military checkpoints continue to grow.
"The security situation has killed the economy, investment, reconstruction and public services in Iraq," lawmaker Nahida al-Dayani, a member of the economic and investment committee in the national parliament, said.
According to the International Monetary Fund, crude oil production has increased rapidly in the decade since 2003, causing gross domestic product per capita to more than quadruple to US$6,300 in 2012.
However, with the current crisis, economists have gradually scaled back their estimates of Iraq's future growth.
In April 2012, the IMF predicted Iraqi GDP growth of 13.5 per cent in 2013 and 11 per cent in 2014, but it now forecasts rates of 9 per cent and 9.4 per cent for those years.
Unemployment remains a problem throughout the country, especially among the young.
The Central Bureau of Statistics for the Ministry of Planning said that the unemployment rates for the year 2012 witnessed a decline compared to the latest figures announced in 2008, pointing out that the ratios show that unemployment has become 12 per cent instead of 15 per cent. But the IMF said this rate was likely to be higher.
If Iraq can't create jobs for its population, that could lead to increased instability.
Fears of pushing this country back to large-scale civil war is not unrealistic. — VNS