- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

U.S. officials condemned Thursday’s wave of bombings that killed at least 69 people in Baghdad and fed fears that renewed sectarian violence will fill a security vacuum created by the departure of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq on Sunday.

The apparently coordinated explosions, which bore hallmarks of past bombings by al Qaeda insurgents, ripped through public squares on a day that also saw tensions mount over a political crisis: The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the nation’s top Sunni leader.

Mr. al-Hashemi told The Washington Times late Wednesday that Mr. al-Maliki was acting on behalf of Iranian interlopers in issuing the warrant, which is accuses Mr. al-Hashemi of running “death squads” that killed Shiite government officials during sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

“Definitely, Iran was involved,” he said of the arrest warrant by phone from a Kurdish town in northern Iraq. “My dear friend, they have staff now in the government and in the parliament. They are representing Iran.”

Asked whether the United States has any evidence to support Mr. al-Hashemi’s claim, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “We do not.”

Anthony Cordesman, the leading Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic International Studies, cautioned against reading too deeply into statements spiraling out of the political standoff in Baghdad.

“When you are being accused of treason and threatened with being put on trial for your life, you may not be the most objective critic of your opponent,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which Iraqi figure you quote at this point, it’s not clear even in what they say whether the motive is conspiratorial or false.”

Meanwhile, there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s bombings, the worst violence to strike Iraq in months.

At least 16 blasts, including roadside bombs, bombs affixed to automobiles and at least one suicide bombing, occurred over several hours in 11 mostly Shiite neighborhoods. Nearly 200 people were injured.

Some Sunni areas also were targeted in the attacks, which bore a high level of planning and could not be tied to the mounting political tensions.

The White House offered condolences to the wounded and the bereaved, saying that “Iraq has suffered heinous attacks like this in the past, and it’s security forces have shown they are up to the task of responding and maintaining stability.”

“Time and again, the Iraqi people have shown their resilience in overcoming efforts to divide them,”the statement by the White House press secretary said.

At the State Department, Mr. Toner characterized the bombings as “desperate attempts by terrorist groups to undermine Iraq at this vulnerable juncture in the Iraqi political process.”

His assessment fit with that of Douglas A. Ollivant, a senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation, who said the “bombings looked like al Qaeda in Iraq; it has their classic signature.”

“This is about al Qaeda demonstrating that it’s still relevant after the departure of the Americans. They’re still on their message, trying to demonstrate that the Iraqi government doesn’t have the power to stop them,” said Mr. Ollivant, adding that he is skeptical of purported connections between al Qaeda and Iraq’s Sunni political leaders as well as those between Iran and Iraq’s Shiite political forces.

Story Continues →