Alarm Grows as Iraqi Forces Fail to Stem Violence

BAGHDAD (AP) -

Officials in Iraq are growing increasingly concerned over an unabated spike in violence that claimed at least another 33 lives on Thursday and is reviving fears of a return to widespread sectarian fighting.

Authorities announced plans to impose a sweeping ban on many cars across the Iraqi capital starting early Friday in an apparent effort to thwart car bombings, as the United Nations envoy to Iraq warned that “systemic violence is ready to explode.”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, was shown on state media visiting security checkpoints around Baghdad the previous night, displaying the government’s effort to show it is acting to curtail the bloodshed.

The rise in violence follows months of protests against the Shiite-led government by Iraq’s Sunni minority, many of whom feel they’ve been marginalized and unfairly treated since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Tensions escalated sharply last month after a deadly crackdown by security forces on a Sunni protest camp.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to redouble its efforts, to revise its security plans, to contain this wave, to prevent it from sliding into sectarian conflict and war,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday. “That should not happen again.”

The spike in violence, which has gained momentum since the middle of the month, is raising worries that Iraq is heading back toward the widespread sectarian bloodletting that spiked in 2006 and 2007 and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

More than 500 people have been killed in May. The month before was Iraq’s deadliest since June 2008, according to a United Nations tally that put April’s death toll at more than 700.