January is shaping up to be a violent month in Iraq. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), the death toll rose by at least 12 on Tuesday when gunmen attacked an apartment that served as a brothel in the Zayouna area of Baghdad.
Liquor stores and brothels seem to be a popular target. On December 7, gunmen attacked 12 liquor stores in Baghdad, killing nine people.
In May 2013, an attack on liquor stores in Baghdad left at least 10 dead. In that attack, gunmen allowed customers to leave the stores unharmed. The dead were all store employees and were reportedly of the Christian faith.
A week later, gunmen attacked a brothel in the Zayouna area, killing 12.
Although no major US news agencies have picked up the report of Tuesday's brothel killing - and it sounds suspiciously similar to the May attack - there is no denying that violence in Iraq has escalated alarmingly in the past year.
According to Shashank Joshi, a Research Fellow at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and Harvard doctoral student, the increase in violence can be explained by three trends:
1. The increasingly authoritarian stance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
2. The rise of protest - both peaceful and violent - among the Sunni minority that comprises 1/5 of Iraq's population
3. Increased sectarian tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims
On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden made a phone call to Prime Minister al-Maliki to express US concern over the increasing violence and to convey support for Iraq's fight against the local arm of al-Qaida.
Biden also spoke to Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi who is a Sunni leader and frequent and outspoken critic of al-Maliki's Shiite-led government.
Presumably, Biden made contact with both leaders in an attempt to bolster collaboration between the two opposing denominations of the Muslim faith.
According to a White House statement, "Prime Minister Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq's Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists."
Meanwhile, as Iraqi government forces battle al-Qaida for control of key cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi, Secretary of State John Kerry has said that no new US troops will be deployed to the region.
Image via Wikimedia Commons