by editor | 22nd December 2011 12:21 pm
At least 60 dead after series of coordinated attacks rock the city days after US forces leave the country
A wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months.
The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last US forces left Iraq and in the midst of a major crisis between the country’s top Shia and Sunni political leaders that has sent sectarian tensions soaring.
The bombings may be linked more to the US withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of sectarian bloodshed such as the one a few years ago that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmarks of an attack by the Sunni insurgents of al-Qaida. Most of the violence appeared to hit Shia neighbourhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted.
In all, 11 neighbourhoods were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. At least one of the attacks was a suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.
The worst blast was in the Karrada neighbourhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.
Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five metres wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.
“I was sleeping in my bed when the explosion happened, said 12-year-old Hussain Abbas, who was standing nearby in his pajamas. “I jumped from my bed and rushed to my mum’s lap. I told her I did not want to go to school today. I’m terrified.”
At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 60, and 160 injured.
Iraqis are used to horrific levels of violence, but many had hoped they would soon be able to enjoy some measure of security and stability after years of chaos.
“My baby was sleeping in her bed. Shards of glass have fallen on our heads. Her father hugged her and carried her. She is now scared in the next room,” said one woman in western Baghdad who said her name was Um Hanin. “All countries are stable. Why don’t we have security and stability?”
While Baghdad and Iraq have become safer over the years, explosions like Thursday’s are still commonplace. They come at a precarious time in Iraq’s political history, just days after US troops pulled out of the country.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week accused the Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, of running a hit squad targeting government officials and put out a warrant for his arrest. Al-Maliki is also pushing for a vote of no-confidence against another Sunni politician, the deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Many Sunnis fear that this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shia control across the country.
Ayad Allawi, who heads a Sunni-backed party called Iraqiya, laid the blame for Thursday’s violence with the government. The Iraqiya coalition also includes al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq, and Allawi has been one of al-Maliki’s strongest critics. Allawi warned that violence would continue as long as people are left out of the political process.
“We have warned long ago that terrorism will continue … against the Iraqi people unless the political landscape is corrected and the political process is corrected, and it becomes an inclusive political process and full blown non-sectarian institutions will be built in Iraq,” Allawi told The Associated Press, speaking from neighbouring Beirut.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the morning’s violence, but the coordinated nature of the assault and the fact the attacks took place in numerous neighbourhoods suggested a planning capability only available to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Many of the neighbourhoods were also Shia areas, which are a favourite target of al-Qaida. The Sunni extremist group often attacks Shias who they believe are not true Muslims.
US military officials have said they are worried about a resurgence of al-Qaida after the American military leaves the country. If that happens, it could lead Shia militants to fight back and attack Sunni targets, sending Iraq back to the sectarian violence it experienced just a few years ago.
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