A series of explosions ripped through Iraq’s capital on Thursday, an ominous turn for a country reeling from a deepening political and sectarian crisis that erupted after the departure of the United States military. It was Baghdad’s deadliest day in more than a year.
The attacks ranged from “sticky bombs” to fully-loaded car bombs, some doubled up to ensure emergency crews were caught by the second blast, a common tactic of Sunni insurgents. Officials said that 72 people had been confirmed dead, and 217 injured, with the figures still rising.
The attacks began at 6:30 a.m. and transformed the morning commute into a bloodbath. Car bombs and improvised explosives destroyed schools, markets and apartments. An ambulance packed with explosives incinerated a government office.
The worst single incident was a suicide attack near a government anti-corruption office in which a stolen ambulance packed with explosives was detonated by its driver, sending debris into the grounds of a nearby kindergarten. Police said 23 people were killed, including five investigators from the office.
A string of three explosions killed 18 people at a construction site in central Baghdad.
No one has claimed responsibility but analysts and U.S. officials say the bombings bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The analysts point to there being no particular target, the victims were overwhelmingly civilian, that it was a series of bombings, and the timing.
“This has nothing to do with the American withdrawal,” said Abdul Kareem Thirib, the head of the security committee for Baghdad’s provincial council.
“When they were here, there were also explosions. We were the ones in control of the streets when the Americans were here. I think there will be more cowardly attacks in the coming days, but we will face them and everything will be under control.”
Political leaders immediately connected the attacks to an angry breakdown this week in the relationship between the Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the country’s most senior Sunni figures
Mr Maliki, whose Shia-led State of Law party is allied to a radical, anti-American and Iranian-influenced Shia group, on Monday demanded the arrest of Tareq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice-president, accusing him of running a hit squad.
“The timing of these crimes and the places where they were carried out confirm to all the political nature of the targets,” Mr Maliki said last night in a statement, suggesting they were a revenge attack and hinting they had political support.
“The criminals and those who stand behind them will not succeed in changing events or the political process, or in escaping punishment.”
Al-Maliki has accused Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that killed government officials and ordered his arrest. Al-Hashemi is one of the Sunni leaders in Iraq’s governing coalition. He denies the charges and has taken refuge in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Al-Maliki is demanding the Kurds return al-Hashemi to Baghdad. American officials were scrambling to defuse what has become an embarrassing and potentially destabilizing standoff.
The American ambassador rushed back to Baghdad after leaving before the holidays, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke on Thursday with Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, urging a dialogue to resolve the crisis. David H. Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the former military commander in Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Mr. Maliki strongly defended his security policies and political maneuvers, saying in a statement that the bombers “will not be able to change the course of the events and the political process.”
One of his main rivals, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said in a Twitter message that “we hold the Government responsible for this security failure and the escalation towards violence.” [via The New York Times, The Telegraph and CBS]