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63 killed in Baghdad as political crisis worsens



Terrorists launched a series of attacks in Baghdad today, killing at least 63 people and wounding scores more. The attacks were coordinated across the Iraqi capital. The suicide attack was likely carried out by al Qaeda in Iraq or Ansar al Islam (Ansar al Sunnah), as both groups use this tactic. From The New York Times:

A wave of coordinated explosions ripped across Baghdad early on Thursday, killing at least 63 people, wounding more than 180 and jolting a country already unsettled by a deepening political crisis and the absence of American troops.

Using car bombs and improvised explosives, insurgents attacked markets, grocery stores, schools and government buildings in a dozen neighborhoods in the central and eastern parts of the capital.

The attacks were the most significant violence in Iraq since the last American troops pulled out of the country earlier this week. So far, the withdrawal and the bitter fighting between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his political foes in Parliament have not been accompanied by a rise in violence. But Thursday's attacks raised the specter that the crisis inside the government could spill into the streets.

The attacks came a day after Mr. Maliki threatened to abandon an American-backed power-sharing government created a year ago. The prime minister's words at a televised news conference on Wednesday threw a fragile democracy into further turmoil after the departure of American troops, potentially tarnishing what has been cast as a major foreign policy achievement for President Obama.

See the Institute for the Study of War's analysis on the impact of the US withdrawal on the political situation in Iraq. I concur with Ramzy Mardani that "the U.S. military's presence still served a peacekeeping and pacifying role in Iraq," and their "premature removal" has removed a crucial buffer from Iraq's fractious political process. More from the ISW report:

In northern Iraq, U.S. troops had deterred potential physical confrontation between Arab and Kurdish forces over disputed territories. However, the U.S. presence had more importantly provided a psychological effect that helped stabilize and bound Iraqi political discourse within expected behavior. Their premature removal from the political space has altered the manner in which Iraq's actors interact with and behave towards one another. Hence, the withdrawal and subsequent turmoil could have profound consequences for Iraq.

The worst-case scenario would be a true civil war in Iraq, in which established military, police, and government institutions fracture along political/sectarian lines and battle each other (I'm of the opinion that Iraq was in the midst of a violent insurgency from 2004-2008, not a civil war). This is by no means guaranteed; Iraq's political actors still have time to step back from the brink and repair the rift.

In the short term, the current political crisis in Iraq only gives more space to Sunni terror groups such as al Qaeda, Ansar al Islam, and the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups such as the Asaib al Haq, Hezbollah Brigades, and Muqtada al Sadr's Promised Day Brigade. Iran also benefits, as the political crisis allows it to wield more influence with the Shia political parties and terror groups.

If Maliki continues his crackdown on Sunni politicians, the Sunni leaders who have backed the government, including the Awakening movements in Anbar, Salahadin, Ninewa, and Diyala, will be hard-pressed to keep their forces from rejoining the insurgency. Without a doubt, al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al Islam are using the current crisis to hone their message that Maliki is an Iranian agent and to portray themselves as the true defenders of the Sunnis.



READER COMMENTS: "63 killed in Baghdad as political crisis worsens"

Posted by Citizen Deux at December 22, 2011 9:53 AM ET:

The losses of life here can be directly tied to the failure of the current administration to secure a SOFA with the government of Iraq. We may possibly see a fracturing of this nation into thre disparate parts (Kurds in the north, Sunni and Shiites in the south) much like Yugoslavia, Sudan and other tribally driven nations.

We continue to see the lesson of history in which "paper" nations are cracked by their own inability to establish a firm rule of law and security base for their populace.

Posted by Mark Brown at December 22, 2011 10:50 AM ET:

It's very sad to see this. I recently read Steven Pinker's new fascinating book titled "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" (http://popsciencebooks.com/psychology-2/the-better-angels-of-our-nature-why-violence-has-declined-2) which argues that we are currently living in the most peaceful time and violence is declining, but these news stories sometimes provide me with doubts about that theory.

Posted by BDD_1970 at December 22, 2011 11:17 AM ET:

I think mostly everyone over the age of 30 knew this was going to end badly.

I find it predictably alarming that the partisan factions here are already using the obvious failure as evidence that past and current presidents were failures. Bush should not have gone and Obama should not have fled.

The sad truth is somewhere in between. The similarity to this war and the one in Vietnam was that a change in power here allowed the undermining of the peacekeeping role and when we were forced to abandon the country the civilians suffered massacre.

I think the mistake we made before the current one owned by the current administration is that war cannot be fought surgically or clean. The best way to win an insurgency is either to occupy the nation fully, which we didn't want to do in the first place as we are not making an imperialistic grab, and the second is to not be there, carpet bomb the country into submission like we did in all major wars of past. War is horrible and should be avoided unless the commitment is there. We have not as a political nation been as committed as our troops to the wars we have sent them to fight.

Now we are resorting to using drones to assassinate the enemy in direct violation of International Law. Don't get me wrong, I am glad we got the right people the wrong way but if we could do that then why did we send our troops there to suffer?

Young people today have little knowledge of the past or the facts of the past. We literally burned Europe to end world war 2 and nuked Japan. The ugly truth is that to win a war you have to do like Sherman in the Civil War and the ancients before him in Greece and Rome, burn it down and either retreat home or occupy it. War is a mean business and if you are not able to do the business, do not volunteer your soldiers who are to fall on their swords in vain.

Posted by popseal at December 22, 2011 2:05 PM ET:

To expect Sunni and Shia'ite to act like Republicans and Democrats is criminally naive. For centuries the region has been in the grip of a primitive and violent superstition that was founded 1400 years ago by a known killer. Revenge and killing is what Muslims do and it will never stop until their superstition is finally overthrown by the light of day. Merry Christmas and God bless us all, every one !

Posted by mike merlo at December 22, 2011 2:28 PM ET:

So now its up to the Turks, Persians & Arabs to solve regional & internal differences. This should prove most interesting. I guess this is the 'front end' of a deteriorating process. Iraq has come to resemble Poland & Czechoslovakia in the run up to WWII. Maybe now we'll get the chance to watch Muslims decimate their ranks much in the same way Christians did in WWI & WWII.

Posted by Muhammad Imran at December 22, 2011 11:54 PM ET:

@BDD_1970 who invented Geneva Accord and other pretty pretty terms when vietnam started turning into VIETNAM !?! Afghanistan was carpet bombed at several places both by US and Russia. Fluja Massacre forgot !?! Japan didnt submitted to nuking it submitted to threat of abolishment Kingship there.

Posted by Stephanie at December 23, 2011 7:21 AM ET:

I live in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and I can tell you people here, especially Kurds and Christians, are nervous about the withdrawl. We can only hope for the best.

Their theory is that the terrorists will try to get the Americans to come back by causing problems.

Posted by dennis murnane at December 23, 2011 8:12 AM ET:

i quote sun tzu "no country has ever benefitted from a protracted war " --- anyone remember that colin powell told the president "china shop rules apply in iraq. you break it. you own it. have my own thoughts as to why we went to iraq in the beginning, yet would be interrested in what other readers here might think the reason was.

Posted by tunde at December 23, 2011 8:26 AM ET:

Citizen deux,
The Maliki administration was never going to allow for any SOFA agreement that allowed US troops to remain. Maliki played a patient game and used the voluntary negotiation (from an Iraqi perspective) that was the SOFA to be a fruitless exercise.
The Shia want the US out of the way to allow for the face-off.
Some democracy we left behind.

Posted by Buff52 at December 24, 2011 4:17 AM ET:

Christmas greetings. It is amazing that so called educated folks in Washington D.C. have not noted what happens when a power vacuum is created by the withdrawal of a powerful military and political force.
Did America withdraw from Germany after the Nazi surrender? Did America withdraw from Korea after the Korean Armistice? Did America withdraw from Japan after V.J. day? No, we stayed on as a friendly force that brought stability to Germany, Japan, and Korea. The same would have happened in Iraq just as it already has happened in Kuwait. What could is the college education of these Washington D.C. leaders if they do not apply the lessons of history?

Posted by Dan at December 24, 2011 2:25 PM ET:

The US had a very successful Mid-East policy in the 1980s called the Iran-Iraq War. It kept both the radical Sunni and Shi'ite elements in their box and, they bled each other white. This left precious few resources (both human and financial) to focus on targets outside the conflict zone.

Yeah, we had to reflag a few Kuwaiti oil tankers and kill a bunch of IRGC-QF and IRN naval SF guys running Boghammer speed boats off IRN controlled oil drilling platforms but, according to the guys that ran those ops, it wasn't all that difficult a msn.

Suspect a near term return to that policy is in the offing, not because we will do anything to initiate it (we did not initiate the first fight either) but, because we can do nothing (COA #1), and it will happen anyway.

Look, there are 2 big guys on the block, IRN and Saudi Arabia (SAU), and eventually they are going to fight. The current regional geo-strategic situation makes the fight all the more likely, and in the protagonists' views, even further justified on religious grounds.

The greatest difference between the 1980s conflict and the conflict about to occur is in the likely front line trace. Instead of running along the IRN-IRQ border, it will probably run down the center of IRQ, since that is where hostilities will initiate. In essence, the Tigress - Euphrates river basin will be the front line, at least initially.

I hope IRN and SAU have their tactical bridging units equipped and up to speed because, if things shake out as described above, there is one hell'uva bunch of opposed river crossings in both their futures.

I can say one thing with certainty, the USA and its allies WILL NEVER return to IRQ. IRN knows this, and is counting on it. This fact alone nearly guarantees the initiation of hostilities.

Posted by Javier at December 28, 2011 2:49 PM ET:

No, we stayed on as a friendly force that brought stability to Germany, Japan, and Korea. The same would have happened in Iraq just as it already has happened in Kuwait.

We stayed on because those countries asked us to. That's the difference. Iraq never want us to stay in their country so that's why they have requested us to leave.