Heated blame-game in shocked Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 25-Aug-09 | Author: Sami Moubayed| Source: Asia Times

Two men inspect damaged vehicles still strewn on a street on August 23, four days after a truck bombing outside the foreign ministry building in central Baghdad.

DAMASCUS - Last week's six terrorist attacks in Iraq, which took place on what has since been called Black Wednesday, are a deadly setback for the United States-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The terrorists struck in the previously safe Green Zone, targeting government buildings like the Ministry of Defense and parliament, killing 100 people and leaving nearly 400 injured. What was worse than the attack was the fact that all of the security ministries were caught completely off guard, and have since been blamed each other for being unprepared.

Parliament held an urgent session at the weekend, 24 hours before the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, and deputies have been calling for the resignation of the ministers of defense and the interior, and the interrogation of Maliki. Speaker Iyad Samarrai, a harsh critic of the prime minister, was so upset with the attacks that he boycotted the session, giving control to his first deputy, Khaled Atiyya.

The only positive outcome of the entire ordeal is how parliament has dealt with the crisis. The fact that an urgent session was called for is positive, since similar deadly attacks have taken place in the past, yet they were so "normal" for war-torn Iraq that they went by unnoticed.

Atiyya promised to punish the criminals and compensate ordinary Iraqis for collateral damage - another novelty in Iraq that has never happened after any of the bombings that have rocked the nation since 2003.

Because of the relative calm Iraqis felt in recent months, and the improvement in security conditions, they were appalled by the latest bombings, which have raised awareness of how important collective security is for Iraqis. Finally, after approximately 1 million deaths in six years, Iraqis have returned to a state of normalcy where they see these attacks as grotesque, and are holding their elected representatives responsible.

Atiyya surprised everybody in parliament by preventing journalists from covering the session - raising criticism from the Sadrist bloc, which called his decision a "betrayal" of the Iraqi people. Media outlets criticized the deputy speaker's decision, saying it contradicted the freedom of speech being heralded into Iraq in the post-Saddam Hussein order.

Sources close to Atiyya defended his decision, saying that in times of conflict, keeping rational thinking and open debate far from the media's watchful eye was more important than democratic practice. Meaning, powerful Iraqis have finally realized that security is more important for the Iraqi government than the fragile democracy imposed on them by the United States.

If these attacks had taken place in Europe, then the prime minister and his entire government may have presented their resignation to the national parliament. In this case, it is unclear whether Maliki and his team will be forced to resign, although many are calling on Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Obeidi, Interior Minister Jawad Boulani and National Security Minister Shirwan Waili, along with the commander of Baghdad Security, to step down.

Lawmakers feel that with former US president George W Bush no longer breathing down their neck, they have more room to maneuver and that officials brought to power in the first place by the United States can be ousted. There is a general feeling that Maliki has lost the US umbrella that has protected him since 2006, and is more vulnerable today than ever.

His team has been frantically searching for scapegoats for the attacks. Obeidi, a Sunni, said that the weapons used for the attacks were "made in Iran". Shi'ite deputies close to Maliki have blamed the attacks on "neighboring Sunni countries" (a reference to Saudi Arabia) while Maliki blamed them on "Ba'athists and members of al-Qaeda".

Usually, when a crime of this magnitude takes place, any respectable state would "round up the usual suspects". But in this case everybody is a suspect because everybody's hands have been bloodied since the downfall of the Saddam regime in 2003. Neighboring countries have meddled extensively in Iraqi affairs, funding militias and the once so-called Sunni insurgency to counterbalance the Iranian presence in Iraq.

The Iranians have also done a lot of meddling, although many believed that because of the disturbances that rocked Tehran after the presidential elections in June, that these domestic problems would Iran was be less likely to interfere in regional affairs through proxies.

Another opinion says the exact opposite, claiming that because of the domestic turmoil, Iran will work on setting the region ablaze, through proxies, to cover up for problems at home - and to show that Iran is as powerful - and perhaps more radical - than ever before. Advocates of this theory point to the bombings that ripped through Iraq last Wednesday, and the violence in Yemen, which is blamed on Houthi insurgents against the Sana government who are ostensibly backed by Iran.

If anything, these accusations prove that Iraq is still far away from being a normal country, despite all the assurances from Maliki and the United States. They also prove that despite all talk of national unity, the nation is still plagued by internal violence and dramatic sectarianism between Sunnis and Shi'ites. It also proves that while the Americans are walking out, with maximum face-saving, regional heavyweights are rapidly crawling back in to fill the vacuum that will be created by the Americans. All eyes are on post-2012 Iraq when all US troops pull out - but the question remains: why these terrorist bombings, and why now?

If Iran is responsible - the minister of defense says the weapons were made there - this is a clear message to the Saudis to stay away from Iran's backyard. If the Saudis were planning to fill the vacuum that easily, then they have to think again.

If the Saudis were responsible, these attacks will certainly damage Maliki's reputation beyond repair, exposing him to his own people as a weak prime minister, unable to control security, who has been lying to his constituency and the international community for nearly 10 months.

If the culprits are not captured and brought to justice very soon, this could encourage other terrorists to carry out similar attacks in the next six months, drowning whatever ambitions the prime minister had at being re-elected, along with his team, in the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2010.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.