A series of coordinated bomb attacks that hit more than a dozen Iraqi cities left more than 50 dead and 200 injured on Tuesday. The nature of the attacks pointed to al-Qaeda (AQ) as the perpetrator of the deadly bombings, but no one as yet has claimed responsibility.
The bombings occurred on the ninth anniversary of the American invasion — an anniversary also marked by the Shiite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers as more than a million of them poured into the streets of Basra in a massive show of force.
The attacks also appeared to be linked to preparations for an Arab League summit to be held in Baghdad on March 29 and it is thought by some experts that al-Qaeda was trying to embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in advance of the meeting. Maliki’s government has invested a nearly $500 million in security and hospitality arrangements and sees the summit as crucial to the future of Iraq.
The chaos sown by the attacks appeared to be designed to further inflame sectarian tensions and hasten the fracture of the Iraqi government. That process seemed to be well underway as the leader of the Kurdish bloc, Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, accused Baghdad of “ideological terrorism” and stopped just short of declaring independence for the three northern provinces where Kurds have set up an autonomous, self-governing enclave.
The bombings targeted cities and provinces across the length and breadth of Iraq. Many of the bombings bore the unmistakable earmarks of al-Qaeda. In Karbala, where loss of life was the greatest, a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint for Shiite pilgrims entering the holy city. When police and emergency services showed up to treat the injured from the first blast, another car bomb exploded that caused even more casualties. All told, authorities say that 13 people were killed and another 48 were wounded.
There was also a twin bomb attack in the northern city of Kirkuk near police headquarters that killed 9 and injured more than 40. Another single car bomb targeted the provincial government building killing 4 more.
The roll call of cities and provinces that suffered the attacks would be familiar to many Americans who remember the sectarian strife during the civil war. In Fallujah, a pregnant woman was killed and her 6-year-old child wounded by bombs terrorists planted around a house belonging to a police officer. In Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, a car bombing outside of a school wounded 4 teachers. In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in front of the Foreign Ministry building, and in the Monsour district, three policemen were killed by gunmen as they stood guard outside of a Christian church. The governor of Anbar province narrowly escaped when a car bomb went off as his motorcade passed. A bodyguard was killed.
The Telegraph reports that diplomats have noticed a pattern of serious attacks every 5 or 6 weeks, indicating that AQ does not have sufficient manpower or resources to sustain daily attacks.
“We strongly condemn the attacks on innocent civilians in Iraq,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney, adding that violence in the country was at historic lows and that the Iraqis were up to maintaining security.
That may be so. But the timing of the attacks have not been lost on the Iraqi government, nor the international community. Prime Minister Maliki is determined that the Arab League summit will go off as planned and without incident. To that end, Iraq will deploy a medium-sized army of police, army, and special forces in Bagdhad for the summit. More than 26,000 security personnel will man barricades and checkpoints, and patrol the streets. The airport will be closed beginning March 26 and remain shuttered until after the summit is over. A curfew is likely to be announced for the duration of the meeting.
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