A series of 12 to 14 coordinated bomb attacks across Baghdad killed more than 60 people and injured as many as 200 people during the morning rush hour on Thursday. T
he BBC puts the death toll at 63, though that number is likely to increase.
The attack deals a major blow to the country’s prospects for peace and serves up perfect fodder for American politicians who claimed the military should not have pulled out of Iraq. The attacks are among the worst of 2011 and come just days after the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the country.
The absence of American forces has led some to fear the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia groups, that tore the country in half at the height of the Iraq War, would return.
That violence reached its peak in 2006-07 following Saddam Hussein’s downfall, but in recent years with American troops providing security has diminished significantly.
Now, the latest bomb attack has many fearing full-blown civil war between the groups could erupt depending on the response to the attack and the mounting tension between the Shiites and Sunnis. The blasts took place in mainly Shiite Muslim areas, where mostly residential areas, schools and shops were the designated targets.
“The timing of the crimes and the choice of their areas confirms again to all those in doubt the political nature of the objectives that these people want to achieve,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement on his website, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
“The criminals and those behind them will not be able to change the course of events or the political process and will not escape the punishment that they will face sooner or later,” al-Maliki said. “I call on religious, political, tribal and national leaders to shoulder their responsibility at this critical time and to stand by the security forces.”
The coordination of the attacks also suggest an incredible amount of time and preparation went into them. The bombings, it seems, are meant to undermine a fragile government that in recent days has sought to remove two of its highest profile Sunni officials.
Earlier this week, an arrest warrant was issued for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, who has been accused of organizing and directing an assassination squad by al-Maliki, a Shia. The prime minister has even threatened to end power-sharing arrangement and form his own majority (i.e. Shia) government if Sunnis don’t cooperate.
Al-Hashemi is a part of a Sunni block of legislators who are in a power-sharing arrangement with the majority Shia, but have been boycotting Parliament in recent days. Al-Hashemi is currently in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the North, to protect himself from his enemies in Baghdad. Al-Maliki demanded that the Kurds turn al-Hashemi over to the government, but those demands only angered the third minority player in Iraq’s power-sharing government.
All of that’s to say, there are now significant problems for the future of a stable coalition government and a secure, peaceful Iraq. You can also expect President Obama to have to defend his decision to withdraw ad nauseam from conservatives who had no problem with it initially.