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Suicide bombs before Iraq election shows Al Qaeda still active

Suicide bombs in Baghdad killed at least 7 people on Thursday, creating worries about security for the Iraq election and the ongoing activities of Al Qaeda in and around Baghdad.

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“Since the end of January and through February we have seen a majority of our [significant activities] related to assassination attempts,” says US Army Capt. Christopher Ophardt, with the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He says the military expects the attacks, largely against police, government officials, and candidates’ relatives, to continue until a new government is formed.

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The attacks, many of them with bombs magnetically attached to cars or gates, are meant to “shape the election and the outcome of it,” says brigade deputy commander Lt. Col. Darron Wright. “It’s not specifically in Abu Ghraib but throughout Baghdad."

AQI exploiting gaps in security after US withdrawal

The largely ineffective police force doesn’t coordinate with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and neither of them coordinate with the tribes, said the sheikhs at a recent tribal support council meeting – a mix of Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders in the majority Sunni area.

Late last year, 13 members of one tribe were abducted and executed by men dressed in Iraqi Army uniforms.

US military officials had said the the execution-style killings indicated that AQI was exploiting the gaps between US forces as they withdrew from the cities and improving but still uneven Iraqi security forces.

In the absence of the ability to eradicate the insurgents, life has become a cat and mouse game here. So much so that the US military has disseminated information to the population on how to check for booby traps under cars and in homes.

“We’re always alert – we know the areas where Al Qaeda is and how to avoid them,” says Awaisi.

The organization operates by recruiting young men and even boys as young as 12 within the tribes. “They are just teenagers so they can control their minds,” said Sheikh Hussein al-Tamimi, head of the Abu Ghraib tribal support council.

Thousands of families, many of them Shiite, left for other cities during Iraq’s civil war. Only 20 to 30 percent of them have returned.

In the combustible mix that plunged the country into a war within a war, Shiite militias were pitted against Sunni insurgents. The tribes either joined in or stood on the sidelines before the organization of the Awakening movement, in which they largely turned against Al Qaeda. Both Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders believe that in the life and death stakes of this election campaign militias – all of them connected to major political parties – still have a part.

“The big parties that have militias can kill people but the independent candidates can’t. If a candidate’s own interests collide with theirs then they will try to kill him,” says one of the sheikhs, who spoke openly on other matters but did not want to be quoted by name mentioning the militias.

“Their whole goal and aim is to ignite this place the way it was in 2006 and 2007,” says Wright. ”That's their tactic and it also serves to delegitimize the government and to show Iraq-wide that your government as well as the Iraqi security forces cannot provide for your protection and your security.”

In Sheikh Tamimi’s view there’s a difference between Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing and more political sectarian violence.

“Al Qaeda kills Sunnis because they are disloyal, they kill Shiites because they’re rejectionists and infidels, they kill Christians because the Christians don’t support them…They kill everyone,” he says.

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