Despite bombings, Iraq confident it can maintain security
At least 49 people were killed and 230 wounded in the latest attack since US combat troops pulled back from Iraqi cities on June 30.
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The explosions were the latest in a series of attacks on Shiite targets that officials fear could spark retaliation, setting off a cycle of sectarian violence that could unravel security gains made under US control.
But Iraqi security officials dismissed suggestions that Iraqi forces might not be able to handle the ongoing violence without the help of US troops.
"These explosions are an attempt to prove the continued existence of terrorist groups," says Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command.
In the biggest attack Monday, two truck bombs detonated before dawn in the village of al-Khazna, about 12 miles north of Mosul. At least 30 people were killed and 130 more wounded – most of them when the explosions toppled their homes.
The province's Sunni Arab governor blamed the attacks on lack of security by Kurdish forces protecting the area. Atheel al-Nujaifi says he had called just days ago for the Iraqi Army, rather than the peshmerga – security forces attached to the Kurdish regional government – to step in and set up checkpoints in what he described as an area infiltrated by insurgents.
"This is an area governed by peshmerga where security has been weak – there are no Iraqi forces, there is no Iraqi Army in the area," says Mr. Nujaifi, reached by phone. The village is near the flash point of Basheeqa, where Kurdish and Iraqi government troops nearly came to blows earlier this year after the Kurdish forces prevented Nujaifi from entering.
No one has claimed responsibility for Monday's attack. The village is populated by members of the tiny Shabak minority – an offshoot of Kurds who practice their own form of religion melding Islam, Christianity, and other ancient religions. The explosions near a Shiite mosque in the village raised fears that the bombing was the latest in a series of attacks on Shiite targets apparently designed to reignite the sectarian violence that has waned since Iraq was thrown into civil war following the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra in 2003.
In Baghdad, a series of other, smaller explosions killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 80.
Iraqi authorities said a bomb hidden in a pile of trash exploded in the West Baghdad Shiite neighborhoods of Amal early Monday morning at a site where construction workers gather to drink tea and try to find work, killing seven people. A short time later in the northwest Shiite neighborhood of Shurta, a car bomb exploded near a group of day laborers, killing nine more. Five other bombs that exploded later in the day wounded dozens of Iraqis.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki reiterated on Monday that attacks could increase ahead of elections in January.
"The coming election will witness increasing attempts to damage and violate security," he told a gathering of Iraqi security commanders, adding that insurgents would attempt in any way they could to demonstrate that the country was unstable.