Fears of increased attacks in Iraq as Saudi-Iran rift widens

Published January 6th, 2016 - 09:00 GMT

Recent attacks south of Baghdad have raised fears that the diplomatic row between Iran and Saudi Arabia could have a violent fallout for Iraq, already in the grip of civil conflict.

On Monday, two Sunni mosques were bombed and a Sunni muezzin was killed south of the capital.

For those who lived through the darkest moments of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the nature of the attacks is evidence of the already tense relations between the leadership in Shia-majority Iraq, Iran's Shia leadership, and the Sunni-ruled monarchies in the Gulf.

"Many families are beginning to fear a return of terror, as during the height of the conflict," said Ali Hamza, a 27-year-old who lives near one of the mosques that was attacked.

The attack has not been proven to be linked to the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, but authorities quickly called for calm.

"Some people want to create the spark that will reignite war among Iraqis and we must stop them because such acts only serve the enemies of Iraq," said Mohammed Abdelfattah, a cleric from Hilla's Al Jazaer neighborhood told AFP.

Analysts believe Iraq is unlikely to slide back into the kind of sectarian bloodshed seen a decade ago. As Baghdad is strongly supported by the US, for Saudi Arabia to wage a proxy war on Iraqi soil "would be fighting the US by extension," says Michael Knights of the Washington Institute.

Saudi's influence over Sunni tribes in the western Anbar province has also diminished over the years, Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group, told AFP.

Iraqi officials say Baghdad - due to its location between the rival countries - could have a role in de-escalating the Iran-Saudi crisis.

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