DAMASCUS - No one has claimed responsibility for the twin suicide attacks in
Baghdad on Sunday that killed 132 people and injured 700 others, but fingers
are already been pointed at the usual suspects - Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds,
al-Qaeda, Iran, even the United States.
What cannot be doubted, though, is that in just a few bloody minutes, Iraq's
political process has been thrown into turmoil, placing in jeopardy the
national parliamentary elections scheduled for January. The future of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who in the past few years has survived as a result of
Iraq's improved security situation, is also now in doubt.
Sunday's attacks on first the Justice Ministry and then the provincial
administration's offices appeared to have been planned for maximum impact and
aimed at Shi'ites and Sunnis alike. However, the second blast came as officials
and clerics gathered
to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of renowned Shi'ite cleric, Mohammad
Sadiq al-Sadr, father of powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The National Security Political Committee, an advisory body of senior
politicians, including Maliki, had also been due to meet on Sunday after
parliament abandoned attempts to agree on a law to govern the general elections
scheduled for January 16. The committee is tasked with coming up with a new
law, but it is unlikely to do so in time for the polls to be held as scheduled;
Sunday's attacks make this even more unlikely and increase the chances of a
The attacks on Sunday follow similarly devastating ones on August 19, when six
coordinated bombs went off in Baghdad, targeting government buildings within
the Green Zone; 100 people were killed on that day.
Maliki, in an unusual move, showed up at the scene shortly after the twin
attacks, promising to bring the terrorists to justice. Hasan Bikani, a member
of the parliamentary committee on security and defense, warned, "We have
reports saying that [terror] operations will increase as the election date
Maliki might have difficulty in realizing his promise. In February 2006, a
terrorist attack struck the al-Askari Mosque in the mixed city of Samarra,
sparking sectarian violence that built up into a civil war between Sunnis and
Although al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, it is by no means clear that the
group did it - some even believe a Shi'ite party was responsible, since the
bombing was not intended to harm Shi'ite worshippers. It did give Shi'ite
militias a pretext to strike at Sunnis, blaming them for the attack which
severely damaged the mosque and destroyed its golden dome. Without a shred of
evidence, armed Shi'ites took to the streets, striking at Sunni mosques,
notables and entire neighborhoods.
Things were different on Sunday. The terrorists clearly wanted maximum pain,
striking in the early hours of the working day when the streets of Baghdad and
the state-run agencies were packed with people.
What makes it difficult to round up the usual suspects is that, contrary to
many previous attacks, no single community was targeted and the death toll was
a mixture of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Christians.
A blow to Maliki
Apart from the election process, the attacks place much pressure on Maliki. For
more than a year, ordinary Iraqis have pinned their hopes on the prime minister
and defended him in public as the man who has restored security to Iraq.
Maliki has faired poorly in attempts to revive the economy, to attract
investment and to provide jobs. He has also failed to attract refugees back to
Iraq and has done a poor job at reconciliation by being unable to bring Sunnis
back into the political process. But he has managed to curb the power of the
militias on the streets of Baghdad and to restore a semblance of normalcy to
entire neighborhoods that had been plagued by civil war since the United
States-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein. Now, after Black
Wednesday and Black Sunday, Iraq is on the point of returning to the very dark
days of the first few years after the invasion.
The US has been watching Maliki from a distance, not too pleased at how he has
handled the Iraq state, due to his alliance with Iran and sectarian policies at
home. The only thing that justified him staying in power was the relative
security that prevailed for 18 months prior to the August 2009 attacks. It is
now clear that crediting Maliki alone for the improved security was an
A main reason the security improved was because regional players were willing
to cooperate with Maliki, and so were their various proxies within Iraq. Now
that this cooperation is on hold because everybody is competing for power in
Baghdad, Malikiís vulnerability is surfacing.
And if there is a series of bombings, questions will be raised about whether
United States President Barack Obama can halve the number of US troops in Iraq
by next August, as he has said he will do. This could also influence his
decision on whether to send an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, as
requested by the United States and NATO troops commander in Afghanistan,
General Stanley McChrystal.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.