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    Middle East
     Oct 27, 2009
Baghdad blasts echo far and wide
By Sami Moubayed

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 constitutional crisis.

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 becomes nearer."

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 Shi'ites.

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 illusion.

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.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


Sunnis present a new face in Iraq
(Oct 21, '09)

Iraq's Maliki gathers his forces
(Oct 6, '09)

Ba'athist rejects Iraq's bomb claims
(Sep 29, '09)


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