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Iraq: On the brink
Can Iraq agree on a national unity government to pull it back from the spectre of civil war, asks Omayma Abdel-Latif
Almost a week after the Samaraa shrine bombings which unleashed a wave of sectarian violence that threatened to take Iraq to the brink of civil war the situation remains, in the words of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, "volatile, serious and sensitive".
A three-day curfew, coupled with calls for unity, joint prayers and national reconciliation, may have saved Iraq for now but few believe that in the absence real commitment to national unity the country will not find itself, once again, on the brink.
The official death toll from revenge attacks that followed the Samaraa bombing has reached 449. On Tuesday alone five blasts claimed the lives of 70 people. The same day witnessed an emerging consensus among political leaders that only a national unity government will be able to tackle the sectarian violence. Talks on forming that government are due to resume by the beginning of next week.
Their possibility of success, though, is hampered by the strained relations between the president and his prime minister. Talabani publicly criticised Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari for failing to notify the government of his recent visit to Turkey and added in a statement that Iraq will not be bound to any of the agreements Jaafari signed with Turkish officials.
This development coincided with a report, published in the London-based Ashraq Al-Awsat on Wednesday, revealing the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the main Shia bloc in government, "knew beforehand about security loopholes and that guards at the Samaraa shrine had been infiltrated". The report, allegedly produced by the Ministry of National Security Affairs headed by Abdel-Karim Al-Anzy, from Jaafari's own Dawa Party, said the government had monitored attempts by "terrorist groups to bomb the shrine but did nothing to prevent the attacks". Government officials, according to the paper, neither confirmed nor denied the report's findings.
The bombing, and the violence that followed, has laid bare the failings of the political process in Iraq and the incompetence of its political class. As the third anniversary of the invasion is commemorated next month more and more Iraqis feel that the time has come to abandon a process that has patently failed and left the country prey to sectarian violence.