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Baghdad bombings: A Sunni backlash?

At least 86 people were killed in the worst bombing since February 2008, presenting a serious challenge to the Shiite-led government.

By Staff writer / August 19, 2009

Smoke billows near the Iraqi Foreign Ministry (l.) after a massive bomb attack in Baghdad on Wednesday. A series of explosions struck Iraq's capital, targeting primarily government and commercial buildings.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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Apparently coordinated truck bombs and mortars targeted installations of the Shiite-led government across Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 86 people in the deadliest day for Iraq’s capital in 18 months.

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Most of the damage was caused by two truck bombs that exploded just minutes apart outside the Finance Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. The bomb at the Foreign Ministry also blew out windows in Iraq’s parliament building and at the Rashid Hotel, where many senior Iraqi politicians live.

The Green Zone, home to the US and other embassies, took mortar fire at around the same time, as did a busy central Baghdad market and one of the city’s bridges across the Tigris river.

US forces withdrew from Iraq’s cities on June 30, and attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere have been on the rise since. Though that has probably made it easier for insurgents to carry out bombings, defense analysts as well as the Pentagon itself have pointed out that simmering sectarian tensions that fuel such attacks have not been addressed.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad security spokesman, blamed Al Qaeda for the attack in an interview with state-TV station al-Iraqiya, according to Reuters. He said two Al Qaeda members were caught before they could detonate a car bomb of their own. He was also unusually contrite for an Iraqi official. "This operation shows negligence, and is considered a security breach, for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame," he said.

Country safer, but Sunni-Shiite tensions unresolved
Though the country is far safer than at the height of its sectarian civil war in 2006, they warn of the potential for another sectarian or ethnic implosion.

“The main challenges to Iraqi security are becoming Iraq's political divisions and ethnic and sectarian tensions,’’ wrote Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former US Defense Department official, earlier this month. “Iraq's Sunni Arabs increasingly distrust what they see as Maliki's effort to expand his power and political support at the expense of Sunnis, and what they see as a form of de-Baathifcation that sharply favors Shiites while continuing to limit or push out Sunnis from both the government and [military].”

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