Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another massive Baghdad explosion tests al-Maliki's resolve

127 people died and more than 500 were injured in five coordinated suicide bombing attacks on Tuesday targetting government buildings in Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq, a group with links to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the blasts in an online statement. The statement said the attack was on "the bastions of evil and dens of apostates," and the Islamic State of Iraq is "determined to uproot the pillars of this government" in Iraq."The list of targets will not end until the flag of unification is raised again in Baghdad,” it read.(Photo credit: Bassim Shati/Reuters)

The attacks were the worst since late October when twin car bombs killed 140 people and wounded 700 more outside Baghdad’s Justice Ministry. The Islamic State of Iraq also claimed responsibility for this atrocity as they did another major attack on government installations on 19 August. In the latest bombing, the five targets were the finance ministry office, the labour ministry, the interior minister, a courthouse and a police patrol. The bombs all exploded within minutes of each other on Tuesday morning.

While violence in Iraq has fallen in the past 18 months, these incidents question the state of Iraq's security as US troops prepare to leave the country after the March 2010 elections. In the wake of the latest bombing Iraqi PM Nouri Al-Maliki sacked the head of the Baghdad Operations Command. Lieutenant General Abboud Qanbar had been a close ally of al-Maliki who was appointed in 2007 to lead that year’s crackdown of Baghdad. But now he was made the scapegoat, as al-Maliki dodged the flak of angry MPs and asked for patience while he plans a further shake-up within the military.

Al-Maliki has been at pains to show the country is now much safer in the lead-up to the 2010 election. But he is gradually being undermined by the well planned and strategic attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq. Formed in 2006, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front group for Al Qaeda with the intention of establishing a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist state in Iraq. A 2007 Times article quoted US intelligence fears that that the Islamic State of Iraq planned to turn Iraq’s Sunni heartland into a militant Islamic state once the Americans left. They quoted the organisation’s draft constitution “Notifying Mankind of the Birth of the Islamic State” posted on a British website that outlined their plans to take over the provinces of Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and parts of Babil. They were also identified as being behind the deadliest roadside bombs for American casualties that year.

While US deaths have decreased, Iraq remains a dangerous place today with far more civilian casualties than occur in Afghanistan. According to Nir Rosen, the US surge in Iraq only worked because the Shiites had already won the civil war with the Sunnis. Rosen says Iraq is ruled by an “incredibly corrupt government, weak, oppressive and this so-called success in Iraq which we’re using as a model for Afghanistan, success that included the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of millions of Iraqis, the devastation of a country, [and] the spread throughout the region of sectarianism and instability.”

Writing on the ABC Unleashed site yesterday, Antony Loewenstein said the Iraq war had dropped off the media radar despite still being a far more dangerous place than Afghanistan. Loewenstein quoted a study by the American media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which found that while opinion polls were divided on the Afghan war this year, this diversity of opinion was not reflected in the pro-war The New York Times and The Washington Post. While the FAIR report did not examine the Iraqi campaign, Loewenstein says the issues are similar. Despite US plans to drawdown its troops by 2011 a large number of “private contractors” will remain. “No American official has ever answered the basic question of how many US troops or military trainers will remain in Iraq beyond 2011,” said Loewenstein. “Indeed, permanent bases in Iraq suggest a long-term presence.”

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