Who's Behind the Rash of Suicide Bombings in Iraq?
On Wednesday Aug. 19 two booby trapped trucks and motar shells were used to simultaneously strike the parliament building inside the Green Zone and six government ministries. This was accompanied by failed assassination attempts on the health and environment ministers. The high level of coordination of the attacks the killed more than 100 people raised many questions.
Three days later, Iraqi state television, Al Iraqiya, aired a video showing an alleged member of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Ba'ath Party saying that he received orders from his boss in Syria to carry out the operation "to destabilize the regime" and confessed to coordinating one of two truck bombings.
But the Arab press is skeptical and offers different explanations to the dramatic increase of explosions in Iraq following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities, which started on June 30.
Liqa Maki, an Iraqi political analyst, told Al Jazeera, "I believe that the perpetrators of this wave of explosions are not the same ones who carried out the explosions in 2006 and 2007."
Like Maki, many Iraqi journalists believe that the timing of the blasts suggests conflicting Iraqi factions may be behind the explosions. Iraqi journalist Muhammad Abdel-Jabar Al-Shabut told Al Jazeera, "The remaining next four months of this year are very critical due to the intense struggle over power ahead of the upcoming elections."
In addition, the high level of coordination and accuracy of the chosen targets of the Aug. 19 attacks raised other questions.
Mosab Jasim, Al Jazeera's Iraq producer, said the coordinated, large-scale explosions near heavily guarded state buildings in the Green Zone "could not happen and would not happen unless there is cooperation from the inside the government and the green zone itself." He said, "one needs to get at least two badges to access the Green Zone, and you have to go through two or three checkpoints that are 600 meters outside the Green Zone." Once you are the entrance of the Green Zone, you still have to go through another check point and multiple screenings, he added.
The question is: Who is behind the bombings and why didn't Iraqi security forces and intelligence agents stop them?
Many in the Arab media believe the recent attacks are not meant to simply kill numerous civilians, but to change the dynamics of the political process. The perpetrators are interested in undermining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ahead of the January 2010 elections by showing that he has failed to maintain security following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq cities.
This explains why al-Maliki attributed internal "political differences" to the bloody explosions in Baghdad. It is also worth mentioning that Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also accused security forces of facilitating the passing of the truck through such a sensitive area.
According to Al Jazeera English, this was confirmed by former police chief, Wissam Ali Kadhem, “who admitted to plotting the attack and said that $10,000 was paid in bribes to checkpoint security staff to reach the finance ministry where the blast occurred.”
But this is not only about money.
Abdel Bari Atwan editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper wrote: "It should be recalled that the present Iraqi security forces are largely composed of ex-members of militia groups -- private armies established by rival Shiite war lords and the leaders of religious factions."
He added, "Al Maliki himself is still head of the Da'awa Party, while Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was also head of its infamous militia, the Badr Organization."
Badr, a Shiite militia, was fully integrated into the new Iraqi security and intelligence apparatus and has a great deal of influence. Atwan believes that it may be behind the recent explosions.
"Following his Da'awa Party's triumph in February's provincial elections, al-Maliki has turned his back on the United Iraqi Alliance coalition (encompassing most of the Shiite blocs) with whom he was to fight the January 2010 parliamentary elections, opting instead for a nationalist slate of his own" he says.
Iraqi Journalist, Abdel Azizi Al Shamri wrote on the Muslim Scholars Association website, "It seems that the latest explosions aim at making maximum gains in the upcoming elections. Prime Minister Al Maliki gave up his yesterday allies and refused to join the United Iraqi Alliance unless he is allowed to remain the prime minister and the head of the alliance at the same time." Al Shamri added, "Al Maliki also insisted that that neither the Sadr movement or the Fadela movement be allowed to join the alliance."
So far, almost all major Shiite forces have already joined the alliance except al-Maliki's Da'wa party. Al-Maliki still insists on running in the upcoming elections for a nationalist slate of his own.
Al Shamri accuses the former members of the alliance of carrying out the explosions to create ethnic and religious tensions as way to prevent him from running with non-Shiites groups.
However, one should not put the focus exclusively on rival Shiite groups. A number of armed groups in Iraq are also in awkward negotiating positions, vis-a-vis al-Maliki, and have an interest in undermining him.
These groups include the 88,000-strong armed Awaking Council or "Sahwa" fighters. The United States successfully recruited and trained Sunni young men including former Al-Qaeda and Ba'ath party members to confront Al-Qaeda and weaken the Sunni insurgency, but it failed to persuade al-Maliki government to absorb them within the Iraqi army or provide them with civilian jobs.
Thamer Al Tamimi, a consultant of the Sahwa Councils leadership told Al Jazeera the United States took $200 million from the Iraqi budget in 2007 and $250 million in 2008 to pay the salaries of the Sahwa council fighters. The al-Maliki government, however, has stopped paying these salaries several months ago.
Abdel Bari Atwan editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper wrote "It would surprise no one if the Sons of Iraq (Sahwa Councils fighters) joined their erstwhile foes in the Sunni resistance to bring down Al Maliki."
The Peshmerga militia of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is also in a difficult negotiation position over land and oil with the al-Maliki government. A key point in dispute is the contested oil rich province of Kirkuk.
The Peshmerga is accused of staging attacks against Christians, Arabs and Turkmen in contested areas as a way to drive them out. The KRG also has disputes with the central Iraqi government over 15 oil deals that it has unilaterally signed with foreign oil companies.
Arab media blame U.S. policies, which started soon after the invasion of Iraq, for today's sectarian violence because they have deepened divisions among different ethnic and religious groups and fueled a power struggle among them.
Iraqi activist Dr. Abdel Amer Alwan said the problem is that democracy in Iraq today is a sectarian democracy not on a citizens' democracy. He told Al Jazeera, "Iraq should be a state where all citizens are equal in their rights and duties regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations which should be a secondary consideration."
He added that within this sectarian democracy Iraqis are encouraged to vote along their religious and ethnic lines because they do not feel that the state will look after their interests. Rather they feel that their sectarian leaders and militias are the ones who will look after their interests.
Many Arab journalists such as Raed Jarrar from the American Friends Service Committee trace the increase of Iraqi sectarianism to the U.S. decision to get rid of the secular Iraqi army the government institutions soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because it created a power vacuum that was filled by ethnic leaders and militias.
However, the Obama administration does not seem to realizes that stability in Iraq depends on ending the power struggle between conflicting parties and sectarian groups. Vice President Joe Biden, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee Iraqi policy and and efforts toward national reconciliation, told CBS in April 2008, "We have a political solution, that is, a federal system, and basically you separate the parties politically, giving them control over their regions with a weak central government."