Liz Sly reports from Baghdad on the three bombings that shook Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar Province, to its core on Sunday and left at least 26 dead and a hundred wounded. The first two bombings occurred outside the Governor’s mansion where delegates from the Shiite-dominated government of PM Nuri al-Maliki were meeting with Sunni tribal leaders of the Awakening Council, which had turned against Sunni Muslim radicals and cooperated with US forces. Al-Zaman writing in Arabic says that the second bomb was timed to go off just as rescue workers arrived to deal with the victims of the first one, though another official said there were only 7 minutes between the blasts. A suicide bomber hit the hospital, perhaps timing his attack with the arrival of victims of the first two, though al-Zaman says that he initially tried to bring a truck bomb close to the hospital and was stopped by alert guards. He then came to the hospital wearing a suicide belt bomb and killed two persons when he detonated his payload.
According to al-Sharq al-Awsat, Ali al-Hatim, the paramount tribal leader or sheikh of the Dulaim tribe traded accusations with Gen. Tariq al-Asal, the head of al-Anbar’s police force, over who was responsible for the lax security that allowed the bombings. Sheikh Hatim accused Gen. al-Asal of bearing responsibility for the bombings, and demanded his resignation. He said he has been buttering up PM al-Maliki by joining the Awakening Council to the central government, but that the cost of this policy was borne by ordinary residents of al-Anbar. Gen. al-Asal in turn accused al-Anbar’s tribal leaders of maintaining secret ties to militants and to Syria, and blamed the bombings on Sheikh Hatim. Al-Zaman maintains that violence is back in the Sunni Arab areas, and that the lessened death toll of 2007-2008 has now been reversed by and that deaths are back up in Sunni Iraq.
Meanwhile, in the northern Sunni Arab center of Mosul (pop. 1.8 mn.), Iraqi security forces have recently made dozens of arrests, according to al-Hayah [Life]. Those taken into custody include many shopkeepers, and Sunni Arabs are accusing the government of taking a shotgun approach, arbitrarily rounding up people on the bsis of profiling, etc. A demonstration was mounted against the arrests.
As Liz Sly points out, the renewed violence comes on the backdrop of wrangling over Iraq’s upcoming elections. In fact, presumably al-Maliki was trying to get Sunni Arabs to join in his command. There are so many US troops in Iraq (130,000 or so) because it is thought they will be needed to close down the country for the elections. But parliament has still not passed an electoral law. It is thus unknown whether Iraqis will vote for individual candidates or for a whole party list. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is lobbying for an open system.
As Sly says, the US withdrawal timetable is premised upon there being elections in January, which may or may not happen. Or may or may not go smoothly.
The US media and public have taken their eyes off this ball. But if Iraq’s elections don’t go well, there could still be a lot of violence ahead.
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