Government sites, court complex targeted; death toll tops 125, more than 500 wounded
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers observe as rescue workers gather at the site of a bomb blast outside a criminal court building in west Baghdad’s Mansour district on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009. (Ali Al-Saadi / AFP — Getty Images)
Dec. 8, 2009
BAGHDAD – A suicide car bomb flattened a court building and an explosives-rigged ambulance blew down walls like dominos near the Finance Ministry during a wave of coordinated attacks Tuesday that targeted high-profile symbols of Iraqi authority. At least 127 people were killed.
The blasts – at least five in total – marked the third major strike on government sites since August and brought uncomfortable questions for Iraqi leaders. These include signs al-Qaida in Iraq is regrouping and concerns over the readiness of Iraqi forces to handle security alone as U.S. forces depart. …
The attacks began with a suicide strike on a police patrol. An hour later, four more explosions rumbled across Baghdad in the span of a few minutes. Suicide car bombings hit three sites: the main Appeals Court, an area outside the Finance Ministry and a government compound that includes the Labor Ministry. A roadside bomb also went off near a university.
Iraq’s Health Ministry reported at least 513 people were wounded. …
The past two major strikes on Iraqi government sites were coordinated blasts in August and October that took more than 255 lives. …
Just hours after the bombings, the government set March 7 as the date for parliamentary elections. …
The bombings marked the most serious spate of violence in Baghdad since twin car bombs on Oct. 25 struck outside Baghdad administration offices, killing at least 155. In August, four suicide truck bombers hit the finance and foreign ministries, killing more than 100.
On a Web site known to express militant views, messages exchanged congratulations for the attacks and praised insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq – with no mention of Baath Party alliances.
The first attack came at midmorning in southern Baghdad. A suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in the mostly Sunni district of Dora. At least three policemen and 12 civilians were killed, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
About an hour later, four blasts roared through different parts of Baghdad in less than 10 minutes, bringing the overall death toll to at least 127, according to police and hospital officials. …
Police say the bomber, driving an ambulance rigged with explosives, was stopped at the last checkpoint before the Finance Ministry. Its previous headquarters was destroyed in the August attacks.
The blast ravaged an outdoor market and collapsed rows of brick walls in stores and homes. The ministry was largely unscathed, but a corner was peppered with metal chunks from the exploding vehicle.
At one home, a ginger-colored dog stood with a chain still around its neck, stranded atop a section of wall above the wreckage that killed its owners and their children. The dog’s water bucket was beside him.
A dog that was chained to a railing in a house damaged by a bomb blast near the new Finance Ministry, which killed its owner, is seen in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009. Iraqi police officials said it was unclear what would happen to the dog if it was not claimed. (Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / AP)
About two miles to the west, another suicide bomber rammed through one checkpoint near a judicial compound that included the main Appeals Court, said the spokesman of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar. Guards opened fire before a huge blast that leveled the court and left dozens of cars crushed and shredded.
Near the protected Green Zone in central Baghdad, which includes the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi parliament, a third suicide bomb struck close to an area with government offices including the Labor Ministry.
Finally, a roadside bomb exploded near the Technology University in eastern Baghdad, missing a passing police patrol but killing one civilian passer-by and wounding four others, police said.
Feb. 17, 2010
BAGHDAD — The slogans express the country’s dream of unity: “Iraq is for everyone.” But the reality lies in where they are plastered and spray painted – on the hundreds of checkpoints that carve up the capital.
With three weeks left before a key nationwide vote, Baghdad looks little different from how it did back when the country was on the brink of civil war in 2006 – divided, gripped by fear and dissected by concrete blast walls.
Election campaigning is only stoking the tensions. Thousands of campaign posters and banners around the city play to potentially explosive sectarian resentments, with Shiites painting Sunnis as loyal to Saddam Hussein or al-Qaida and Sunnis depicting Shiites as oppressing their community.
The March 7 election for a new parliament will produce a government that will shoulder the task of shepherding the nation after the last American soldier leaves by next year’s end . It will have to maintain security in the face of an increasingly bold insurgency and negotiate an enduring, power-sharing deal between the country’s main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups.
Failure in one or both tasks would plunge the country back into the chaos and lawlessness of years past and re-ignite the murderous sectarian conflict of 2006 and 2007 that tore the country apart.
‘From bad to worse’
Despite a dramatic drop in the number of insurgent attacks, today’s Baghdad offers little reassurance for the future.
“Things are going from bad to worse with security and services because officials are preoccupied with the election and their own interests,” said Ali Mohsen, a Shiite civil servant from eastern Baghdad. …
After a series of devastating bombings that hit high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad since August, authorities added more blast walls and checkpoints to the thousands already in place. Major roads by government offices and other potential targets have been closed.
Some checkpoints have taken a permanent nature, with sleeping areas for soldiers built next to them. One on the southern approaches of Kazimiyah, a Shiite district that’s home to a revered shrine and popular food and gold markets, now has a vehicles’ search area nearly the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
Thousands of policemen and army troops patrol the streets round the clock in pickup trucks and SUVs.
Fearing for their safety, many Baghdadis are reluctant to venture out of their neighborhoods after nightfall, and most streets empty by 9 or 10 P.M. at the latest.
Dark says of the sectarian bloodbath
In many ways, it is a throwback to the dark days of the sectarian bloodbath, when most residents left home only when absolutely necessary, fearing death squads and sectarian militiamen.
Karim Kadim / AP
Workers install a campaign poster for candidate Ali al-Dabagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, a candidate with the State Coalition, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb.17, 2010.
To this day, entire neighborhoods that once were flashpoints remain closed off by 6-foot-high blast walls, accessible mostly by a single entrance controlled by security forces. Drivers endure tortuously long waits to enter, and in some cases must show identity papers.
At the Imam Abu Haneifa mosque in northern Baghdad, Iraq’s holiest Sunni site, blast walls bearing Quranic verses have recently been placed around it. “Trust that only what God has willed for us will hurt us,” reads one verse tellingly.
“How much more of this tragedy must we endure?” bemoaned Saleh Omran, a Sunni retiree from Baghdad’s Mansour district. “We have lost our humanity,” said Omran, who acknowledges he stays clear off Shiite areas after dark.
Ironically, it is the checkpoints – among the most potent symbols of Baghdad since the U.S. invasion of 2003 – that offer a vision of a united country, rid of corruption and sectarianism. The slogans put up by soldiers and police proclaim, “Loyalty to the homeland and the people only,” or “No favoritism at the expense of duty.”
In contrast, the message from the election posters is divisive and, in some cases, amounts to incitement. Each side – the Shiites who now dominate the government along with the Kurds, and the Sunni minority – depicts itself as oppressed by the other. …
More than 440 mostly Sunni candidates, including senior politician Saleh al-Mutlaq, have been barred from running in the election by a Shiite-led vetting body because of suspected Baath Party ties. The resulting row has poisoned Shiite-Sunni relations and raised questions about the vote’s credibility. …
Campaign posters for Shiite and Sunni parties are found only in neighborhoods dominated by one or the other sect, an indication Iraqis remain married to a sectarian voting pattern. …
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 8, 2008
NATO supply terminal attacked in Pakistan (MSNBC, Dec. 7, 2008) – NBC’s Ned Colt reports on militants attacking a NATO supply terminal where a security guard was killed and over 160 vehicles were burned. (02:03)
One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that Taliban militants had blasted their way into two transport terminals in Pakistan and torched more than 160 vehicles destined for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, in the biggest assault yet on a vital U.S. military supply line.
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