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Violence and Political Upheaval Plunge Iraq Deeper into Chaos

Presidential vote delayed as airstrikes and bombings continue

A boy looks at a destroyed building after an attack in the city of Beiji, on July 20, 2014. (Photo: Human Rights Watch / Reuters)

Iraq's Parliament delayed its vote for a new president Wednesday, following an overnight bombing in Baghdad that killed more than 30 people, including many civilians. Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that is leading the insurgency and currently controls about one-third of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports that a government air raid Wednesday morning on the militant-held town of Sharqat, about 190 miles north-west of Baghdad, killed at least three women and a child.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Wednesday (using numbers from before the most recent spate of violence) found Iraq’s security forces have killed at least 75 civilians and wounded hundreds of others in "indiscriminate air strikes" on five cities since June 6 of this year. The organization says that civilians are paying the price as government forces attempt to retake areas controlled by Islamic State (the group formerly known as ISIS) and other Sunni militants.

“The Iraqi government may be fighting a vicious insurgency, but that’s no license to kill civilians anywhere they think ISIS might be lurking,” said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director. “The government’s airstrikes are wreaking an awful toll on ordinary residents.”

Also on Wednesday,
the top U.N. envoy in Iraq urged the Security Council to demand that the Islamic State stop all hostilities and atrocities. According to the Associated Press, Nickolay Mladenov said the Islamic State group has grown from a splinter group of al Qaeda to "a complex threat to peace and security in Iraq, the entire region and beyond."

The Iraqi Parliament agreed to meet again on Thursday, which would be its last chance to select a president before a week-long Muslim holiday. As Agence France-Presse notes, "the person chosen could reveal what alliances were formed in the political horse-trading of the past weeks and give a hint of who could become the next prime minister."

But the stakes are even higher than that, according to Hoshyar Zebari, a member of the Kurdish minority in Parliament. On Sunday, he told the Arabic international paper Asharq Al-Awasat:

The security situation is deteriorating and is putting pressure on the government, especially after ISIS and other armed groups took control of numerous areas in some provinces. Many people living in these provinces have confirmed that they are not in favor of the government, and that they are suffering and have demands. Thus the situation needs to be addressed politically, in a way that is real rather than just formal. [Resolving] the threat remains dependent on the political process moving forward without stopping and without facing new obstacles. If this doesn’t happen, then the country will plunge into chaos.

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