Bombings may aim to derail effort to reform election law


In addition to huge loss of life, yesterday’s attacks in Baghdad could trigger renewed sectarianism, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

YESTERDAY’S TWIN bombings at the justice ministry and provincial administration offices in Baghdad were the most deadly so far this year.

The death toll surpasses the August 19th attacks which killed 102 people at the foreign, finance, and health ministries.

Although there has been a steep drop in violence since the 2006-2007 sectarian conflict, the civilian toll rose to 1,100 for July, August and September and is expected to continue climbing ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 16th.

The bombs were timed to scupper a meeting of the country’s senior leaders to resolve a dispute over the election law which threatens to postpone voting by one or two months and precipitate a constitutional crisis. Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki warned on Saturday that if there is a delay “the government . . . and parliament would lose legitimacy and there could be a return to sectarianism”.

Lieut Gen Ali Ghaidan al-Majid, commander of Iraqi ground forces, blamed yesterday’s attacks on outsiders, specifically elements based in Iran and Syria. He also said stocks of weapons found in the south of Iraq had been smuggled from Iran.

Accusing Tehran of involvement seems to indicate that the government and security establishment seek to create some distance between the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and Tehran. Sunni, secular and some Shia Iraqis see the government as a surrogate of Iran, where Maliki and other Shia leaders took refuge during the former regime.

But it is unlikely that Tehran, closely allied to Iraq’s ruling Shia and Kurdish parties, would perpetrate bombings designed to undermine confidence in the government and security services. This is not in Iran’s interest. Tehran wants a peaceful Iraq so that elections – which Shia religious parties allied to Iran are expected to win – take place on time and US forces are withdrawn according to the Obama administration’s timetable.

It is equally unlikely that Syria is behind the Iraq bombings because, like Tehran, Damascus seeks stability in Iraq and an end to the US occupation.

Nevertheless, in August, Maliki, eager to deflect blame from his security forces, accused Syria of harbouring Baathists who, he said, were responsible for that outrage.

His allegations caused a sharp rift between Baghdad and Damascus, which rejects his accusations and refuses to hand over those he says perpetrated the bombings unless Iraq provides evidence of their involvement.

More than 1.5 million Iraqis have taken refuge in Syria since the US occupation, among them members of the former regime and the outlawed Baath party who Maliki seeks to extradite.

Analysts argue that Sunni insurgents could be behind the bombings.

Maliki has alienated Sunnis who switched sides to join Awakening Councils which fought al-Qaeda. He refused to provide Sunni paramilitaries with jobs in the security forces and ordered the arrest of commanders and fighters.

Maliki has also dismissed US calls to reconcile with the Sunni community by allowing former Baathists to take jobs in the public service.