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Terrorism & Security

Baghdad bombings put pressure on Iraq government

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is being pushed to do more to stop violence that has spiked this summer in Iraq.

By Staff writer / August 15, 2013

Civilians inspect the aftermath of a car bomb attack in Baghdad Thursday. Reports say that 33 people were killed in a series of bombings today, the latest attacks in a spike of violence in Iraq.

Karim Kadim/AP

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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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A wave of bombings in and around Baghdad in the past 24 hours has underscored the challenges the Maliki government faces in its campaign to rein in the violence that has soared this summer.

July ranked as the country's bloodiest month since 2008, with 1,057 people killed, spurred by Sunni militants who are chafing under a predominantly Shiite government that has systematically marginalized Iraq's Sunni minority.

Reuters reports that a series of car bombings in Baghdad today killed 33 people, with one blast going off near the still-heavily fortified Green Zone. They came on the heels of two bombs in Baquba, north of Baghdad, last night, that killed 14 people, according to Agence France-Presse. After last night, August's death toll was up to 300 – an average of more than 21 people killed each day.

Last night's attacks prompted public reassurances from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the government would continue with the mass arrests and targeting of militant camps that have been ongoing since a jailbreak at nearby Abu Ghraib prison last month freed hundreds of prisoners, some of them senior militants, reports AFP.

Maliki said more than 800 alleged militants had been detained and dozens of others killed in multiple operations, the latest announcement by authorities of efforts to tackle spiralling violence that has left more than 3,400 dead since the start of 2013.

"The operation that we started in chasing terrorists, and those who stand behind them, will continue until we protect our people," the premier said in remarks broadcast on state television.

He said security forces had destroyed militant infrastructure used to make car bombs and seized a large amount of weaponry and explosive material. 

The attacks are believed to be carried out mostly by Sunni militants, seeking to destabilize the Shiite-dominated government that has steadily marginalized Iraq's Sunnis since taking power.

A Gulf News editorial blames Mr. Maliki and his government for the violence, pinning it on the lack of inclusive policies.

As the death toll climbs up to levels not seen for more than five years, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government is doing far too little to stop the crisis.

Most of the violence in the past six months has involved Sunni Islamist militant groups targeting Shiite Muslim districts, even though both Shiite and Sunni areas were hit last weekend.

… Maliki should take a more decisive stand to stop the spiraling violence. This has to be a combination of tougher security measures and more inclusive politics. It is a matter of regret that he has adopted more overtly pro-Shiite policies. Iraq does not need a sectarian approach to its problems, the government should look at the country as a whole and reestablish the confidence of the entire people, whether they are Sunni or Shiite.

The international community, particularly the US, is watching Iraq's violence with growing concern as it merges with the fighting happening next door in Syria, where Al Qaeda-linked groups are now openly fighting alongside the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime. Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is now believed to be in Syria. 

Time Magazine points to recent US government statements on Syria as a sign that despite almost 10 years in Iraq, the country's violence is far from over.

“This is a regional conflict that stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad,” Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the Syrian civil war on Monday in Israel. “It is the unleashing of historic ethnic, religious and tribal animosities that will take a great deal of work and a great deal of time to resolve.”

Baghdad? The capital of the nation the U.S. recently fought to liberate? Attacking a single country riven by sectarian battles that spill over its borders can be likened to taking a swat at a hornets’ nest and irritating those inside. Or akin to spreading cancer by operating to excise it.

Time also contrasts news reports from December 2011, when the last American troops left Iraq, with this week's:

When the US pulled out of Iraq after nearly nine years of occupation, it declared Al Qaeda in Iraq on the run. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq is still operating, although at a much lower level,” President Obama said in December 2011 as the last US troops headed home from Iraq.

Which makes the lead story in Tuesday’s Washington Post — “Al Qaeda’s Iraq Affiliate Expands Presence in Syria” — all the more chilling. It suggests that the US’s fervent wish to be done with Iraq doesn’t mean that Iraq is done with the US.

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