Bombings Shake Iraq as March Elections Set
The attacks, which were timed within minutes of each other, ripped through the Labor Ministry, a court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone, and the new Finance Ministry site, which was rebuilt after an August blast. They also damaged a university, mosque and a market.
Rescue teams dug through rubble to try to find survivors. Iraqi authorities placed the death toll at least 127 with hundreds more wounded.
The scale and coordination of the attacks show the insurgency in Iraq, whether they are al-Qaida affiliates or unreconciled Baathists — the party of deposed late leader Saddam Hussein — are determined to embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and puncture the credibility of Iraqi security forces, said Rusty Barber, director of Iraq Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“It’s a broad attack on the institutions of the state and the pillars of Iraqi society, to send a message that they are still quite capable of wreaking havoc” and that Iraq is still unstable, Barber said.
Overall, however, violence in Iraq has dropped over the past year, he noted, but insurgents have recently increased attacks on government sites. Two cars filled with explosives detonated outside government offices on Oct. 25, killing at least 155 people. And in August, suicide bombers struck the finance and foreign ministries, killing more than 100, according to the Associated Press.
No one claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, though Iraq’s former national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie blamed al-Qaida. He told the BBC he thought their aim was to destabilize the country ahead of elections, which the presidential council set for March 6 just hours before the blasts. The council later delayed the election by one day to allow more time for preparations, news outlets reported.
“The aim is to show the government is unable to protect civilians and its own people and also to deter people from going to ballot boxes,” al-Rubaie told the BBC.
The White House condemned the attacks, spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. He said Iraqi leaders who recently passed a parliamentary election law are moving the country in the right direction, and that “there are clearly those who are threatened by that.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also tied the bombings to the upcoming election. “The attacks appear to be aimed at undermining the election process, including the political progress in Iraq,” he said in a statement. “The Secretary-General appeals to the people of Iraq to remain steadfast in the face of these attacks and to continue their determined efforts to achieve national reconciliation.”
On Sunday night, Iraq’s parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, adopted an election law that has gone through several evolutions.
The approved version will increase the 275 seats in parliament to 325, 310 of which will be allotted to Iraq’s 18 provinces, with the rest reserved for religious minorities and blocs that received national support but not seats in individual provinces, the Agence France-Presse reported.
The parliamentary election was originally set for January, but the vote was postponed when Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is a Sunni Muslim, vetoed the measure, saying it didn’t provide enough representation to refugees, many of whom are Sunni. Sunnis have struggled for more representation in the Shiite-dominated government since Saddam, a Sunni, was overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The election law was changed, but it allocated more seats to Kurds, who live semi-autonomously in northern Iraq, and again al-Hashemi threatened a veto. But last-minute negotiations and pressure from U.S. and U.N. officials brought a compromise on the distribution of seats.
Now that a date for the elections has been set, the “great fear with respect to elections is how capable are the Iraqi security forces,” particularly the Iraqi police, said Barber.
In the last provincial elections in January, which were relatively calm, a coordinated security program involved an inner ring of Iraqi police, an outer ring of Iraqi army, and American forces stationed far from polling sites but still available should they be needed, he said, adding that similar measures might be undertaken for next year’s elections since they have proven successful.