[The head of Baquba’s city council] said that eight mukhtars had been assassinated in Baquba this year in Al Qaeda’s effort to gain control of neighborhoods, particularly in the west of the city. In addition, seven family members were killed in those attacks, Mr. Hiali said. Most were carried out by so-called “sticky bombs,” explosives attached to the underside of victims’ cars, he added.Baquba was a Qaeda stronghold during the Iraq war, and the former Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed just outside the city in an American airstrike in 2006.
The mention of the sectarian butcher Zarqawi brings up a crucial point about this new al-Qaeda surge. In the video broadcast after last Monday’s attacks, the group’s leader compared his outfit’s campaign against the government to the uprising in Syria: a pious Sunni opposition trying to topple an infidel regime. What makes the situation in Iraq so fragile is the fact that this struggle between the state and terrorists is also a sectarian conflict.Just as Assad’s minority Alawite regime in Syria faces a Sunni opposition, the battle lines in Iraq are also drawn on religious boundaries. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s repressive Shiite government might have overplayed its hand in punishing the disenfranchised Sunni minority (a minority that held the Shiite majority in an iron grip during the Saddam years).In Iraq, as in Syria, sectarianism makes an already Hobbesian drama even nastier and more brutish—but unfortunately not any shorter.