Iraqi security forces and citizens were on edge Tuesday after a string of attacks that has raised fears of instability and sparked accusations that the government has become too consumed with forming a coalition to be able to protect its citizens.
The US State Department said the attacks would not "undermine the confidence the Iraqi people have demonstrated in their government and their security forces.” But the attacks appear to have not only undermined Iraqi confidence in their security forces but the security forces’ confidence in their government.
Many Iraqis, including police and soldiers, say they believe their own politicians are behind the attacks.
“I can’t speak badly about security because I don’t want to spoil the image of the security services, but to tell you the truth, it is not good,” says a policeman near the site of one of the checkpoint attacks. “This is a struggle for power – none of the citizens are blindfolded – we can all see and understand the situation. I blame the government for this.”
Iraq mired in vote recount two months after election
More than two months after national elections, the country is still mired in a recount demanded by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose State of Law coalition had two fewer seats than his nearest rival, the largely secular Iraqiya bloc. Mr. Maliki has since formed an alliance with another Shiite list but will have to find a way to reach out to Sunnis, who voted in large numbers for Iraqiya.
“I can’t point a finger at any one political party but any one of them can take advantage of the situation now and do what they want,” says the policeman, who asked to be called Amar out of fear of being punished or arrested if his real name were used.
Security forces targeted in coordinated Baghdad attacks
The highest death tolls were in the mainly Shiite cities of Hilla and Basra. The attacks were aimed at Shiite civilians and seemed designed to reignite sectarian violence. In Hilla, south of Baghdad, two car bombs detonated outside a textile factory killed at least 50 people. In Basra, considered one of the safest of Iraqi cities since Iraqi forces drove out Shiite militias two years ago, more than 30 people were killed in three marketplace bombings.
But it was in Baghdad, where attackers launched a chillingly coordinated string of predawn attacks on checkpoints, that security forces were carefully targeted. At six checkpoints across the city at roughly the same time, men with submachine guns fitted with silencers shot and killed seven policemen at close range. Policemen in the vicinity of one of the attacks said none of the attacks had the signature of Al Qaeda.
Sadr faction calls for emergency session
The Sadr movement – one of the members of the new Shiite alliance – has called for an emergency session to reconvene the former parliament to oversee security.
Shiite politician Qassim Dawood repeated the call on Tuesday, saying Monday's attacks indicated a breakdown in security. "It is of utmost importance that the legislative authority be reactivated until a new parliament is in place," he says.
Ayad Allawi, whose Iraqiya party won the most seats in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election but has since faced legal challenges from Maliki's government, warned that political turmoil could plunge the country back into civil war that would have repercussions for the region.
"This conflict will not remain within the borders of Iraq," he told the Guardian newspaper in an interview published yesterday. "It will spill over and it has the potential to reach the world at large, not just neighboring countries."
Sahar Issa contributed to this report.