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Iraq’s Uptick in Violence Renews Stability Concerns

April 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Gwen Ifill gets an update from a New York Times reporter about what the deadly wave of bombings in Baghdad could mean for stability in Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Violence is on the upswing again in Baghdad, where at least 35 people were killed in a string of bombings today, after five days of upheaval across Iraq.

For more on political and security setbacks as the U.S. prepares to leave, we turn to Rod Nordland of The New York Times. I spoke to him earlier today from Baghdad.

Rod, thanks for joining us.

Is this what it looks like, a steady, growing uptick in the violence in Baghdad?

ROD NORDLAND, The New York Times: Well, more of a sudden uptick in the last five days especially, but there has been a gradual increase as well in small incidents.

But, in these spectacular attacks, the last five days have been pretty out of the ordinary. Today, we had a lot of Shiite civilian targets attacked. The day before yesterday was embassy targets. Five days ago, it was a bunch of Sons of Iraq militiamen who were executed.

And it’s really a concerted campaign. And the most striking thing about it is that they have been able to attack all over the city in widely different neighborhoods in a very concerted fashion.

GWEN IFILL: When you say they, are we talking about a certain group that is responsible for all of this, a coordinated attack? Or is it just breaking out all over?

ROD NORDLAND: No, I think it’s probably al-Qaida. And I think most people would agree with that, al-Qaida in Mesopotamia or in Iraq.

They haven’t claimed credit yet. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes, they don’t. If it serves their interest, they may not even claim credit. But it certainly has all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack. And there’s no points in attacks like this unless somebody thinks that you did it. And that’s what everybody thinks here, and with — with pretty good reason, I think.

GWEN IFILL: Except, the difference this time, at least in these latest attacks today, seems to be that they were targeting civilians.

ROD NORDLAND: Yes, what they were doing is just shifting their tactics, which we have seen them do now for the last year.

They will — they will attack one sort of target. And then, when they see that that kind of target is well-defended, they will shift to another one. It is true, for quite a long time, they have avoided attacking purely civilian targets, attacking instead the security forces or government ministries and so on.

And this is the first time they have attacked a purely civilian target in, I think, pretty much a year. But they have done it before. And nobody was expecting it. The last thing they expected were bombs to be placed in people’s apartment buildings.

And it’s just, you know, other targets are well enough defended that they shift their tactics and choose something that isn’t.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any way to know whether there’s any connection between these attacks, this latest spurt of attacks, and the — the political upheaval we have seen with the outcome of the most recent elections?

ROD NORDLAND: Well, we can only assume that — that, with the government and the politicians in — in the middle of intense negotiations now at putting together a coalition that can rule the country after the elections, that these attacks are timed to coincide with that, and to have some sort of effect on that process, or at least to attempt to do so.

What’s — what’s very striking, though, is that, despite the attacks and despite the way they have practically paralyzed the city, because they have been — they were so widespread, despite that, high-level meetings have continued to go on at a very rapid pace.

And I think, partly, if anything, politicians now feel galvanized, that they — there’s a need to put together a government, so that their security forces especially, but the government generally, don’t feel that they’re — they’re no longer in control of this situation.

GWEN IFILL: Rod, you will recall that, when there was debate going on in the United States about whether to sell a — set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, one of the arguments against that was that there would be an uptick in violence as enemies saw what was about to happen.

Is there any concern on the ground there that this is what this is connected to?

ROD NORDLAND: Yes, there is concern. People see that, see that one of their aims probably is to try to provoke the Americans into staying, because that would be highly unpopular and it would give them, you know, another reason to exist here.

There’s no sign so far that that’s happening. The Americans have been very quiet, actually conspicuous by their quietness, in the face of all this, and really are leaving it to the Iraqis to handle, even to the point where a lot of people are wondering if they shouldn’t take a more active role, at least temporarily.

And I think, if these kinds of attacks go on, that — that may well happen. But, for the moment, you know, mum’s the word. And we’re hearing hardly anything from the American military and from the American Embassy here.

GWEN IFILL: Rod, there — on a related subject, there has been some discussion here, some controversy here about the release, the leak of a video of an Apache attack helicopter killing, among other people, some Reuters employees in 2007 in Iraq. Has that video been circulated widely there, and has there been reaction at all on the ground?

ROD NORDLAND: It has circulated widely here, but I think there was actually a somewhat muted response here, even compared to other Arab countries. Sad — sad to say, most Iraqis have a pretty cynical attitude toward the Americans. And incidents of this sort don’t really surprise them as much as maybe it does ourselves.

GWEN IFILL: So, there is no reaction at all from U.S. officials on the ground or from Iraqi officials about this particular incident?

ROD NORDLAND: Iraqi officials have been pretty preoccupied with the bombs going off today. American officials refer questions to Washington. It’s one that they really don’t want to touch.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Well, there certainly is plenty enough going on there. Rod Nordland of The New York Times, thanks again for joining us.

ROD NORDLAND: You’re welcome.