Suicide bombings may have caused a police backlash, however the reporting is still in question
Yesterday’s dual suicide strikes in Shia markets in Tal Afar appears to have been a major success for al Qaeda. The largely Shia city, which has been a model of governance and security in Iraq, had at least 63 of its citizens murdered. Al Qaeda, which has claimed responsibility for the attack, has struck at Shia civilians in the past in order to stir up sectarian violence. Yesterday’s attack may have worked. While the news reports on this incident are still being sorted out, the initial reports indicated off duty Shia policemen went on a killing spree in Sunni neighborhoods. Upward of 60 Sunnis are said to have been murdered.
Again, this has yet to be confirmed. The Associated Press changed the initial headline from “Enraged Policemen Go on Revenge Killing Spree in Northern Iraqi Town” to the more careful headline of “Shiite cops reportedly rampage vs. Sunnis” [emphasis mine]. During today’s press briefing with Rear Admiral Fox, the press did not follow up his denouncement of the bombings or the reported incident, which is interesting. Later reporting indicates a militia may have carried out the murders. Reuters headline is “Gunmen kill 50 in Iraqi town” and states a militia conducted the attack, which may have had members from the police force.
The Tal Afar police have been confined to their stations, and the Iraqi Army and Mosul police are said to be heading to Tal Afar to provide security. The Maliki government is investigating the incident.
The events in Tal Afar is a very serious issue which will reverberate throughout the Sunni community, particularly at a time when the government is seeking to reconcile with Sunni insurgent groups.
Obviously, if the allegations as initially reported are true, al Qaeda was very successful in causing the security forces backlash and the resultant negative effects. If the report is inaccurate – if this was a small element of the police, or perhaps from police assigned from outside Tal Afar, or the actions of a local militia – al Qaeda still received an incredible propaganda victory.