Feature

A new surge of violence hits Iraq

In the deadliest insurgent strike since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq’s major cities on June 30, a series of explosions in the heart of Baghdad left at least 95 dead and hundreds wounded.

What happenedIn the deadliest insurgent strike since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq’s major cities on June 30, a series of explosions in the heart of Baghdad this week left at least 95 dead and hundreds wounded. Demonstrating that the insurgency still has the capacity to strike at will against major institutions, suicide bombers detonated vehicles near the Finance and Foreign ministries, sending bodies and debris flying. At about the same time, two mortar shells landed in a busy central Baghdad market area, damaging one of the bridges spanning the Tigris River and killing at least six people. Iraqi officials blamed the attacks on “remnants of the Baath Party, criminal gangs,” and Sunni extremists. “The whole thing is just so disgusting,” said U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill. “They’re just psychopathic.”

Speaking prior to the assault, Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki said Iraq must be prepared for more violence as national elections approach in January. “Terrorists are increasing their attacks here and there because they recognize that we are about to have a political breakthrough,” he said. Despite the recent upsurge in violence, President Obama this week reaffirmed his commitment to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. “For America, the Iraq war will end” in 2011, Obama told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.

What the editorials said“The bad old days” are back, said the Montreal Gazette. Jihadist groups such as al Qaida in Mesopotamia may simply have proved too cunning for the U.S. and its allies in the Iraqi government. Having “melted away” during the troop surge two years ago, they’ve now re-formed to wreak havoc just as al-Maliki tries to take the reins of his country. There’s nothing subtle about their strategy: “The insurgents are trying to whip up a civil war again.”

They could succeed if Iraq’s leaders continue their current course, said The New York Times. Sunni insurgents are hoping that more Sunnis come to believe that violence is the only way to stave off oppression at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite leaders. Their cause is being helped by al-Maliki’s failure to guarantee Sunnis a share in Iraq’s oil revenue, or even fair representation in the civil service and armed forces. To stop the violence, “al-Maliki will need to make a far more convincing effort to persuade Iraq’s Sunni Arabs that they, too, can thrive in the new Iraq.”

What the columnists saidDon’t assume the Sunnis are behind every attack, said Mayada al Askari in the United Arab Emirates Gulf News. Numerous factions, including rival Shiite groups, are angling to gain power in the next election. Al-Maliki is vulnerable because unemployment and corruption are widespread and basic services remain in shambles. He has brought some measure of security to Iraq, though, and his many rivals, Shiite as well as Sunni, have a strong motive to challenge that. Every bomb sends a message that “al-Maliki’s only achievement is falling apart like a house of cards.”

The only thing preventing Iraq from completely imploding, said Barbara F. Walter in the Los Angeles Times, is the presence of American troops. There is little reason to believe that Sunnis or Kurds will be safe from Shiite aggression without a serious U.S. presence. If Obama holds to his plan for complete withdrawal in just two and a half years, we should brace for either an all-out sectarian war or a brutal crackdown by Shiites and the establishment of a new authoritarian regime. Is that really an outcome the U.S. “is willing to live with?”

That’s far too pessimistic an assessment, said Larry Kaplow in Newsweek. Iraq is not the “powder keg” it once was. In 2006, “the destruction of a Shiite shrine by Sunni gangs touched off an escalating cycle of violence that nearly tore the country apart.” But following some recent attacks on Shiite holy sites, Shiites refrained from striking back and Sunni political leaders offered condemnations. It helps that the country is more segregated than it use to be, making it harder for religious rivals to reach one another. But it’s also clear that a growing number of Iraqis are “committed to keeping the peace.”

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