Wave of bombings across Iraqi capital kills 69
Thursday, December 22, 2011
BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of 16 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday, killing at least 69 people in the worst violence in Iraq for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians that has sent sectarian tensions soaring.
The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together, the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaida’s Sunni insurgents. Most appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted. In all, 11 neighborhoods were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. There was at least one suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.
Coordinated campaigns such as this generally take weeks to plan, and could have been timed to coincide with the end of the American military presence in Iraq, possibly to undercut U.S. claims that they are leaving behind a stable and safe Iraq. Al-Qaida has long sought to sow chaos and provoke the type of Shiite militant counterattacks that defined Iraq’s insurgency.
At least 14 blasts went off in the morning and there were two more in the evening.
The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighborhood, 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 yards wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.
Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 69, and 169 injured, including the two evening blasts in western Baghdad neighborhoods that killed nine people and injured 21.
In Washington, the White House condemned the bombings and said attempts to derail progress in Iraq will fail. Press secretary Jay Carney said the attacks serve no agenda “other than murder and hatred.”
For many Iraqis and the Americans who fought a nearly nine-year war in hopes of leaving behind a free and democratic country, the events of the past few days are beginning to look like the country’s nightmare scenario. The fragile alliance of Sunnis and Shiites in the government is completely collapsing, large-scale violence with a high casualty toll has returned to the capital, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is displaying an authoritarian streak and may be moving to grab the already limited power of the Sunnis.
Al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government this week accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country’s top Sunni political leader, of running a hit squad that targeted government officials five years ago, during the height of sectarian warfare. Authorities put out a warrant for his arrest.
Many Sunnis fear this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.