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95 killed in Iraq's spiral of violence

| Monday, May 20, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraq's wave of bloodshed sharply escalated on Monday with more than a dozen car bombings across the country, part of attacks that killed at least 95 people and brought echoes of past sectarian carnage and fears of a dangerous spillover from Syria's civil war next door.

The latest wave of violence — which has claimed more than 240 lives in a week — carries the hallmarks of the two sides that brought nearly nonstop chaos to Iraq for years: Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaida's branch in Iraq, and Shiite militias defending the power they gained when Saddam Hussein's regime fell.

But the widening shadow from Syria's conflict increasingly threatens to engorge Iraq's sectarian strife, heightening concerns that Iraq could be headed toward civil war.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must balance its close ties with Iran — the main regional ally of Syria's Bashar Assad.

Al-Maliki appears determined to keep Iraq's minority Sunnis from taking a more high-profile role in the anti-Assad forces, which have received pledges of support from al-Qaida in Iraq.

Al-Maliki is not only worried about his Sunni rivals possibly deepening their involvement in the rebel cause in Syria, said Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Al-Maliki believes this is the time to be tough and show he is in control of the country,” said Clawson. “What we are seeing is the backlash to that.”

The U.S. and its Western allies strongly support Syria's political opposition, but have been reluctant to significantly boost weapons flow to rebel fighters because of worries over Islamic militants who have joined the anti-Assad brigades. But the deepening refugee crisis in the region, along with concern over spillover violence, is often cited by Arab states and Turkey urging greater Western intervention.

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