- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

As American forces withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns, sharp cutbacks in the money paid to Sunni tribal leaders, combined with increasing Sunni hostility toward the Shi’ite-dominated government, have contributed to a dramatic deterioration in Iraqi security, Iraq specialists say.

In the most destructive terrorist attack so far this year, two huge blasts Oct. 25 destroyed the Justice Ministry and a provincial government office, killing more than 140 people and wounding hundreds in a zone supposedly protected by 50 roadblocks and 10,000 soldiers and police.

Two other ministries in central Baghdad were hit by a similar bombing in August, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 500.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Judith Yaphe, an Iraq specialist at the National Defense University, said al Qaeda’s resurgent ability to carry out such devastating attacks stems in part from the fact that Sunni militias that accepted payment from U.S. forces to fight al Qaeda have fallen on hard times.

Earlier this year, the U.S. shifted responsibility for payment to the Iraqi government, and militia members say the payments have all but ceased.

“There was a real money-flow problem,” Ms. Yaphe said.

A congressional staffer who spoke on condition that he not be named because he was discussing sensitive intelligence said that after the U.S. stopped paying Sunni forces directly in June, it wasn’t long before payments to the tribes “simply stopped. You got paid if you were a power in the government, and the tribal leaders were last on [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki’s list,” the staffer said.

The Iraqi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Najim Abed al-Jabouri, the former mayor of Tal Afar, Iraq, and now a fellow at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, said he fears the pace of terrorist attacks will increase as January elections approach.

An unanswered question is how the bombers driving vehicles laden with explosives could reach targets in Baghdad’s most secure neighborhoods.

“What people should ask is how al Qaeda was able to do this,” Mr. Jabouri said, referring to last month’s bombing, which he said killed more people than the Maliki government acknowledged, including 60 children.

Mr. Maliki, the prime minister, blamed the attacks on al Qaeda and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.

“The cowardly acts of terrorism which occurred today must not weaken the resolution of Iraqis to continue their journey and to fight the followers of the fallen regime, the Ba’athists and al Qaeda,” Mr. Maliki said in a statement released by his office after last month’s blasts.

Within days of the latest bombing, the Iraqi government arrested 11 officers and 50 members of the military and police, including a commander and police chief, on suspicion of involvement in the bombing, according to news accounts.

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