This month’s Iraq death toll — so far at 500, with more than a thousand injured — is yet another chilling reminder that the country is getting closer to a return to the bloody violence witnessed in 2006 and 2007. And while Iraq’s conflict may be internal, the grievances of its people have the recipe for turning it into a regional civil war. The war next door in Syria is already spilling over into Lebanon. Adding Iraq to the mix will create a cross border civil war that will engulf the region in flames that may take decades to put out.

In this unfortunate age, when all of the region’s conflicts are seen through the prism of sectarianism, one must be wary not to allow those whose interests are served by further bloodshed to triumph. A vacuum of effective leadership that serves all citizens will lead to the stepping-in of extremist figures and groups that have the potential of sucking the blood out of the country and its unity.

Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has failed to provide security to his people and these failures are likely to have serious repercussions on the unity of the country.

The continuous bombings may be intended to undermine the government’s control and authority over the country, but they may have the effect of undermining Iraqis’ hopes of continued coexistence of the country’s various ethnic and religious groups. Al Maliki’s government must listen to and address the grievances of his citizens. It is these grievances that terrorists who blow up mosques and souqs capitalise on.

So far, those demonstrating in the west of the country have done so largely peacefully, but their continued hopelessness in getting the government’s ear is bound to lead to further tensions. The responsibility for that, as well as the eventuality of Iraq’s splitting — as has been demanded — rests on the shoulders of Al Maliki and his government. The people of Iraq, and history, will never forgive them for it.