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Assailants shot dead five Iraqi policemen at a road checkpoint in Baghdad on Tuesday, getting August off to a grim start just days after the local government said July was Iraq’s deadliest month in two years.
The attacks come amid a drawdown of US forces and political instability in Iraq. Iraqi politicians are still fighting over who should become prime minister because of unclear results in the March elections and there is speculation that insurgents are taking advantage of the discord.
News reports did not say how many attackers were involved in Tuesday’s shooting, which took place early in the morning. They fired guns with silencers and left behind a black flag to represent the Islamic State of Iraq, says CNN, the call sign of an umbrella group with alleged links to Al Qaeda. The same flag was planted last Thursday, after suspected Al Qaeda militants attacked another checkpoint and killed 16 Iraqi officers.
Also Tuesday, in several separate incidents around the Iraqi capital, roadside bombs wounded a total of six people and mortar rounds damaged a building, CNN reports.
While the number of US service members killed or wounded in Iraq has been on the decline, according GlobalSecurity.org, the July death toll for Iraqis was the highest in two years. The Iraqi health ministry announced Saturday that 535 people were killed and 1,043 were wounded across the country last month, says the Voice of America.
Maliki offers to stand down
Some have blamed the recent wave of violence on the political impasse in Iraq’s Parliament. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sought to avoid public criticism, saying in a televised interview that he will not seek a second term if another candidate is agreed upon, Reuters reports.
"I say to the Iraqi people, to those who say Maliki is the problem, I'm ready to freeze my nomination," he said, adding: "The problem is bigger than a single candidate."
Politicians have said the choice of a prime minister is the main stumbling block in negotiations on forming a government nearly five months after a parliamentary election.
Drawdown of US troops
Also raising fears of instability is the gradual drawdown of US soldiers in Iraq. President Barack Obama vowed again yesterday to fulfill an agreement with the Iraqi government to lower American troop levels from 80,000 to 50,000 by the end of this month, in a speech that may draw comparisons to former President George W. Bush, reports The Christian Science Monitor. The US has agreed to remove all troops from the country by the end of 2011.
Juan Cole, blogger and author of Engaging the Muslim World, quotes T.S. Eliot and says the US mission in Iraq is ending “not with a bang but a whimper” –and without an Iraqi government in place. But he says that Obama is making the right moves.
The main thing to remember is that the US military, all the time it was in Iraq, was never really in control at a neighborhood level and that tens of thousands of US troops could not prevent the Civil War from killing so many Iraqis. So there is no reason to think that keeping a large US combat force in Iraq could eliminate political violence. In fact, since the guerrillas used to lay roadside bombs for US convoys, and often missed and killed civilians, the end of active US patrols in the cities actually contributed to a fall in violence.
Moreover, US combat troops cannot help anyone form a government and are irrelevant to Iraq’s stalled political process. So Obama is right to stick to the timetable.