Los Angeles Times: Baghdad bombings leave at least 60 dead, nearly 200 injured
A string of explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital on Thursday, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 200 just days after the last U.S. troops left the country, police and health officials said.
The attacks came in the midst of a political standoff between the country’s main Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions, heightening fears of a return to the sectarian bloodletting that devastated the country a few years ago.
Authorities said more than a dozen bombs exploded in different parts of Baghdad in a seemingly coordinated assault during the morning rush hour. Most of the targeted neighborhoods were predominantly Shiite, but some Sunni areas were also hit.
In the deadliest attack, a suicide bomber detonated an ambulance packed with explosives in front of a government anti-corruption office in the Karada neighborhood, shattering windows and setting cars ablaze. A police officer at the scene said at least 16 people were killed and 45 injured.
Jack Healy, The New York Times: Blasts Rock Baghdad as Political Crisis in Iraq Deepens
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. At least 63 people were killed and 185 wounded.
On Thursday night, four more blasts shook Baghdad, killing three more people.
There were fears that the precipitous withdrawal of American troops might lead to instability in Iraq, but the speed with which conditions have deteriorated has alarmed Western officials. Until Thursday, however, the bitter fighting between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his foes in Parliament had not been accompanied by a rise in violence.
Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor: Iraq's Maliki threatens, Sunnis grumble, and Baghdad goes boom
Today's death toll in Iraq, by the grim standards of the country's almost nine-year-old war is sadly nothing special. The current count, according to the BBC, is 68 dead in at least 16 bomb blasts across the Iraqi capital today. With the toll almost certain to rise – dozens of seriously injured are in city hospitals – Dec. 22 may well end up one of the worst days of 2011 in Iraq.
But at the height of Iraq's civil war and insurgency, hundreds were killed in single days. While the US troop surge of 2007 helped tamp down Iraq's violence – and, the US hoped, created "space" for sectarian reconciliation – in the years since, Iraqi politics have remained largely driven by sect and ethnicity, their politicians pursuing a zero-sum game for absolute power.
Unsurprisingly, rates of political violence have been on the rise this year. More than 30 attacks across Iraq on Aug. 15 killed more than 70 people – so while today was horrific, it was far from a isolated instance. In July, then US Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction wrote that "Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work. It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago." He asserted that assassination of judges and security agents remained commonplace and the "situation continues to deteriorate."
There have been no signs of improvement since, and the fears that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies would continue to seek to consolidate security and political power in their own hands have quickly borne out, just days after the last US combat troops departed the country.
Mr. Maliki has had an arrest warrant issued for Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who has fled to autonomous Kurdistan. Mr. Hashemi has been charged with running a death squad. Whatever the merits of the charges against him - few Iraqi politicians are more than one or two degrees separated from the sectarian violence at the height of Iraq's civil war – the timing of the charges sent a strong message that political consolidation, not reconciliation, is the order of the day.
BBC News: Baghad blasts: Hashemi blames Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, but analysts say the level of co-ordination suggests a planning capability only available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is a mainly Sunni insurgent group.
Mr Maliki said the attackers should "confirm once again to any doubters the political nature of the goals that those criminals want to achieve", but that the attackers should not be allowed to influence the political process.
The BBC's Jim Muir in the region says most Shias will conclude that Iraq's disaffected Sunni leadership was behind the latest violence.
There is a strong possibility, he says, that insurgents on the Sunni side were just waiting for the most tense moment to unleash attacks they had been planning.
Elsewhere on BBC News: Al-Qaeda around the world
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was formed in 2004, the year after the US invasion, when the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. It is also known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Al-Qaeda here has been responsible for many attacks, but the group's capacity diminished from 2006-7, when Sunni Arab leaders turned on them, and the US military launched its troop surge.
But al-Qaeda in Iraq remains operationally active.
Al-Zarqawi himself was killed in June 2006. He was succeeded by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, whose death was reported in 2010.