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Other News: Security in Iraq Questioned After Massive Bombings

October 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, Iraqi troops ramped up security across Baghdad, a day after two suicide truck bombings killed at least 155 people. Some 500 others were wounded. The blast targeted the Justice Ministry and the provincial government’s headquarters located near the fortified Green Zone.

By today, authorities had arrested at least 76 people.

For more, Ray Suarez talked earlier today with Jane Arraf, Iraq correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and Mideast regional editor for GlobalPost.

RAY SUAREZ: Jane Arraf, welcome.

What’s the latest today on the attacks? Has the death toll continued to rise?

JANE ARRAF: It has. The death toll looks like it’s going past about 150, Ray, and hundreds more wounded.

And more than that, a lot of questions being raised as to how this actually could have happened just two months after the horrific bombing of the Finance and Foreign Ministries.

Now, yesterday, at the site, there were absolute scenes of devastation, people sobbing, carrying away wounded relatives, trying to find their relatives, and pretty much chaos for the first little while. The streets were flooded. Rescue workers were trying to wade through bystanders.

It really was one of the most horrific scenes that many of us have seen in quite a long time. We had kind of thought this was over with. And now it seems to have started again. And that is definitely the feeling that you feel on the streets, that things could very much get worse again.

RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that August attack. At the time, weren’t measures put in place to make this kind of operation less likely in Baghdad?

JANE ARRAF: Absolutely.

That August attack, which killed at least 100 people with an eerily similar attack, a truck packed with explosives in two different places, and a suicide attack, at that, was actually a wakeup call. And it was said to have been a systemic failure — failure of security.

Now, the Iraqi government responded by firing some senior Iraqi security officials. It said it put new measures in place. I spoke with a senior American official today who said, indeed, they had put measures in place. But it has not prevented these two bombings, which, again, were eerily similar.

These were trucks traveling streets where no trucks are supposed to be in daytime. They apparently went through checkpoints, where they should have been checked, but weren’t. And they managed to explode in one of the busiest times of the day, in one of the most packed places in Baghdad, killing government workers, as well as passersby, including children.

RAY SUAREZ: Did Baghdadis head back into that neighborhood today to work, to shop, just to see the aftereffects?

JANE ARRAF: That neighborhood really is a collection of government ministries across a very busy road. And surrounding it are sort of Soviet-style apartment buildings. So, it is quite densely packed. There is not a lot of commercial activity in that immediate vicinity.

It isn’t too far away from the Green Zone. Now, no one can possibly work there for the next little while. If you look at these buildings, the tops have been sheered away, basically. You can see all the way inside, and you can see the collapsed roofs — the collapsed ceilings, rather, the floors, the jumbled furniture, the tangled metal.

There is no one that is going to be working in there for quite a long time. Having said that, this is a city, as you know, that is used to devastation. And people aren’t afraid to go out and go shopping. They are going shopping in different areas. They very much expect this to occur ahead of the elections. And a lot of people are bracing for even worse.

RAY SUAREZ: With those elections looming, was it the government of Nouri al-Maliki that was the real target?

JANE ARRAF: It seems to be that any government would have been a target. Perhaps Maliki, who has a Shia-led government, is a bit more of a target.

This does have the hallmarks of an al-Qaida in Iraq attack, by the nature of the types of explosives used, the sophistication of the attack, and the fact that they were suicide bombers. But, really, what it points to, as the August 19 bombings pointed to, is an attack basically on the heart of Iraqi institutions, a message that no one in Iraq is safe, that the government can’t protect them, that the institutions cannot function, and that they can’t rely on their own security forces.

And that could have been directed at any government headed by anyone. Really, it appears to be aimed at showing that any government at all is ineffectual and just can’t keep its people safe.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you have reported that Iraqis on the street told you they believed Iraq’s own political parties were responsible. Why would they say that?

JANE ARRAF: Absolutely. They always need someone to blame.

And, certainly, when something this horrific happens, they do cast a very wide net of blame. Now, with Iraqi politicians, it’s almost immediately blaming al-Qaida and Baathists. With the Iraqis on the street that I talked to at the site of the bombing shortly after the bombing, they were saying they believed that this was a ploy to get political power, that, actually, political parties were behind it, because they wanted to destabilize other political parties, and they were fighting for seats in the election.

People firmly believe this. Some of them believe that the United States is behind these bombings. Everyone believes that there is someone responsible for this. There are very few people who believe that it could simply be extremists, that it could be people acting on their own.

Essentially, anyone you talk to at the site of these bombings believes that there is a wider network there. And, in many cases, they are pointing at the elections and saying this is all politically motivated.

RAY SUAREZ: And, from Baghdad, Jane Arraf of The Christian Science Monitor, thanks for being with us.

JANE ARRAF: Thank you so much.

JIM LEHRER: In Pakistan today, 11 Iranians were arrested for illegally entering the country. It happened near Pakistan’s southwest border with Iran.

Pakistani officials said several of the men belonged to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard. Fifteen members of the Guard died last week in a suicide bombing in Iran. The Iranians blamed militants backed by Pakistani intelligence.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic boycotted the opening day of his war crimes trial. The tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands adjourned after just 15 minutes.

We have a report from Robert Moore of Independent Television News.

ROBERT MOORE: Above all, this was meant to be their day. After 14 years of waiting for justice, the grieving mothers of Bosnia arrived at the court expecting to see Radovan Karadzic in the dock. They were to be cruelly disappointed yet again.

The man accused of genocide refused to leave his cell, an empty seat his latest act of defines of the U.N. The judge promised the trial would go ahead tomorrow, even without the defendant.

JUDGE O-GON KWON, war crimes tribunal: We request Mr. Karadzic to attend, so that the trial is not further obstructed.

ROBERT MOORE: Karadzic is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. At the core of the prosecution case is the claim that he masterminded the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, with its random shelling and terrifying sniper fire.

He is also accused of ordering the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were captured, tortured, and shot.

But, if the defendant didn’t bother showing up today, what do we know about the defense strategy? In the back streets of Belgrade, I tracked down the brother of Radovan Karadzic, one of his most trusted advisers.

LUKA KARADZIC: What is being blamed on us, what’s being said about Srebrenica did not happen. It’s the biggest fraud, not just by the Muslims, but by the international community.

ROBERT MOORE: Are you — are you denying that he had command responsibility?

LUKA KARADZIC: Radovan is clear on this. As soon as the tragic war started, he issued orders, written instructions, on how soldiers should behave. So, responsibility for all actions lay with unit commanders.

ROBERT MOORE: Back at the court, the mothers expressed outrage that Karadzic refused to attend and that the judges agreed to a day’s delay.

JIM LEHRER: Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July of last year, after 13 years on the run.

The U.S. Senate will debate a health care reform bill that includes a government-run public option. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that today, and he said states get to choose whether to take part.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., senate majority leader: All the national poll show a wide majority of Americans support the public option. I think it’s important that the matter that we work on in the Senate have a public option in it.

And the public option with an opt-out, is one that’s fair and gives states, in fact, if they don’t want to be part of public option, opportunity to get out.

JIM LEHRER: The idea of a public option has been gaining momentum in recent days, but Reid would not say if he has the 60 votes needed to get past any filibuster.

The story of the Northwest Airlines plane that mistakenly flew past Minneapolis took a new turn today. The National Transportation Safety Board quoted the pilots as saying they had laptop computers in the cockpit. That’s a violation of company policy. Richard Cole and Timothy Cheney said they were checking their work schedules. They denied they had fallen asleep.

Wall Street pulled back today, in part over fears that stocks have risen too far, too fast. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 104 points, to close below 9868. The Nasdaq fell more than 12 points, to close at 2141. And the price of oil dropped back in New York trading, as the dollar gained strength.