AP reports that guerrillas drove a car bomb into an Interior Ministry crime lab in the Karrada district of Baghdad on Tuesday, only a day after a coordinated bombing attack on the city’s hotel district, killing 22.
Al-Zaman says that a number of high-ranking officers are among the dead, and that some 80 are wounded. Many Iraqi politicians live in Karrada, an upscale Shiite neighborhood. Haydar al-Jurani, a member of parliament in the Islamic Mission Party (Hizb al-Da’wa) to which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki belongs, was walking near the building and was taken to hospital with a mild head wound.
If the attacks were meant to demoralize, they seem to be succeeding. Al-Zaman reports that many in Baghdad blame the security forces for either being incompetent, or for being actively complicit (e.g. taking bribes to allow cars through checkpoints) in the bombings.
The crime lab, which had been recently renovated with American aid funds, was almost completely destroyed. Obviously, a terrorist group would want to disrupt the forensics capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.
AP’s Brian Murphy also quotes Gen. Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, to the effect that the explosives used in the past two days appear to have been less powerful than in the August and December attacks, but that guerrillas have developed new tactics– having an armed band shoot it out with building security forces, e.g., clearing the way for a car bomb to be driven into the building. The US military suspects that there are bomb-making factories in the semi-rural areas just outside Baghdad, from which the payloads are driven into the capital. The guerrillas’ strategy has also shifted, Odierno, said, from a attempt to mount a popular insurgency to overwhelm the capital [in 2004-2005] to a rearguard set of small terrorist actions aimed at destabilizing the Shiite-dominated government. [Cole would add that the reason for this shift is that the Sunni Arabs have been largely ethnically cleansed from Baghdad, so that it is no longer plausible for them to take over the capital using their old demographic base in e.g. al-Mansur. Thus the spoiler actions of bombing downtown buildings, which cannot change the government but can keep it weak.]
Muhammad A. Salih reports for IPS that the Accountability and Justice Commission, which excluded some 500 candidates from running in the March 7 parliamentary elections, may be softening. It recently reinstated 59 candidates. The ostensible reason given for the exclusions was that the candidates were too closely linked to the banned Baath Party. But among those excluded was Salih al-Mutlak, who had sat in parliament as leader of the 11-seat National Dialogue Bloc and who had left the Baath Party in 1977. I am quoted saying that this move by the committee comes as too little, too late, and that the goal of the exclusions seems to be to make sure that the Shiite religious parties retain control of parliament, whichthey have had since January 2005.
Carnegie has a good overview of the politics of the exclusions. The authors maintain that Shiite ex-Baaithists were also banned, and that most of the 500 were minor political figures, but that the more prominent of them were Sunni Arabs, creating an impression of sectarian bias. The head of the Commission is a fundamentalist Shiite also running for parliament, a situation many have decried as inherently unfair.
The next big security challenge comes this weekend, with the advent of the 40th day commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at his shrine in the holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad. Some 20,000 army troops, police and other security men have been positioned through the city to forestall bombings of the pilgrims or the shrine, which would have the potential to throw Iraq back into intense ethno-sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Pilgrims are being forbidden to wear burial shrouds, which some do to symbolize their willingness to be martyred along with Imam Husayn for the truth. I suppose authorities feel that the loose shrouds could too easily hide a belt bomb.
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