At least 80 people were killed and more than 350 injured when a coordinated series of bombs were set off across the length and breadth of Iraq on Monday. Believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQIR), the bombings have shaken the people’s confidence in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and called into question the competence of Iraq’s security forces. The attacks also raise concerns about the US withdrawal deadline of January 1, 2012 being met, as insurgents rev up the frequency and severity of their strikes in advance of that date. As America makes plans to leave, Iraq drifts evermore into Iran’s orbit and the Shia-dominated government does little to stem the attacks on Christian churches, while Sunni on Shia violence threatens to break out once again.
Occurring in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, authorities count at least 31 attacks that targeted seventeen cities. A similar series of attacks occurred last year at this time and were traced to AQIR. The worst attacks took place in the city of Kut, where a bomb planted in a juice machine exploded in a crowded market, killing dozens. Then, the AQIR signature to the attack occurred when a car bomb detonated as a crowd gathered to assist the wounded and tend to the dead from the first attack. At least 60 Iraqi civilians lost their lives, with more than 80 wounded.
Iraq’s security forces were also targeted on Monday
as a car bomb went off outside a police station near Karbala, killing eight, and a suicide attacker dressed as a policeman walked into a police station in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and detonated his vest, killing three.
Even the Sunni Awakening Councils — former insurgents who laid down their arms to fight AQIR in 2007 — were not immune from the violence. Several gunmen dressed as policemen entered a mosque just south of Baghdad and called out seven members of the local council. They were summarily executed.
The attack on the Sunnis may be seen as an attempt to revive the sectarian violence that tore the country apart in 2006-07. The Sunnis are already suspicious of the Shia-dominated government, which snubs the religious minority in government contracts, recruitment for the army and police, and even in the treatment of Sunni holy sites. For their part, Sunni militants attack pilgrims who are coming and going from revered Shia mosques. The violence is constant and has called attention to the government’s inability to secure the country from the attacks of extremists.
Christians in Iraq say that the government doesn’t even attempt to protect them from radical Islamists — both Sunni and Shia — who have attacked several churches recently, killing worshipers and destroying centuries-old structures. A bomb blast outside of St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church in Kirkuk caused severe damage, although no one was hurt. That was not the case on August 2, when a bomb detonated near Holy Family Syrian Catholic Church, injuring 15 people. On that same day, another bomb was defused before it could damage a Presbyterian church. At one time, Iraq had a large Christian minority representing several strains of Christendom, including Coptics, Russian and Greek Orthodox, as well as many protestant sects. But most have fled the country or live in fear from the increasing Islamization of the country that tolerates attacks on them, their clergy, and their churches.
The growing extremism is a consequence of Iraq’s drift into the orbit of Iran. If any evidence is required regarding how close that relationship is getting, one need look no further than the shocking statement by Prime Minister Maliki last week taking the side of Syrian President Assad against the protesters seeking to bring him down. While every other Arab government in the region has condemned Assad’s brutal crackdown, only Iran and Iraq have offered words of support. Maliki accused the protesters of trying to “sabotage” the state while hosting a Syrian government delegation. Maliki also welcomed Syria’s foreign minister last month. A Shia ally of the prime minister was quoted in the New York Times saying that the goal of Israel and the Gulf States “is to use the sectarian differences between the Shiite ruling family in Syria and the Sunni majority” for their own purposes. He said that if the protesters win, al-Qaeda will rule in Syria — a parroting of the official Syrian government line justifying the crackdown.
But Maliki owes everything to the Iranians and Syrians. They engineered his selection as prime minister following elections last year despite his secular rival, Ayad Allawi and his Iraqiya party, winning the election. “Maliki is very reliant on Iran for his power and Iran is backing Syria all the way. The Iranians and the Syrians were all critical to bringing him to power a year ago,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group.
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