Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bombings rock Baghdad in response to US pullout

CBS/AP) BAGHDAD - A wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence in Iraq for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians that has sent sectarian tensions soaring.

The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together, the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings bore all the hallmarks of al Qaeda's Sunni insurgents. Most appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted. In all, 11 neighborhoods were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. There was at least one suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.

The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighborhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.

Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five yards wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.

"I was sleeping in my bed when the explosion happened," said 12-year-old Hussain Abbas, who was standing nearby in his pajamas. "I jumped from my bed and rushed to my mom's lap. I told her I did not want to go to school today. I'm terrified."

At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 60, and 160 injured. The spokesman for the Iraqi health ministry put the death toll at 57 and said at least 176 people were injured. But conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of such widespread bombings.

For many Iraqis and the Americans who fought a nearly nine-year war in hopes of leaving behind a free and democratic country, the events of the past few days are the country's nightmare scenario. The fragile alliance of Sunnis and Shiites in the government is completely collapsing, large-scale violence with a high casualty toll has returned to the capital, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is displaying an authoritarian streak and may be moving to grab the already limited power of the Sunnis.

Video: U.S. troops home from Iraq for Christmas

Al-Maliki's Shiite-led government this week accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's top Sunni political leader, of running a hit squad that targeted government officials five years ago, during the height of sectarian warfare. Authorities put out a warrant for his arrest.

Many Sunnis fear this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.

Iraq PM tells Kurds to hand over Sunni VP

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "The Early Show" on Thursday that the wave of violence represents an "I told you so" moment in his mind. McCain long opposed deadline-oriented withdrawal plans for U.S. troops, arguing the Obama administration's claim that Iraq is now a relatively peaceful nation with a capable domestic security apparatus was a fallacy.
"It was pretty obvious if we did not have a residual force there, things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that," said McCain.

"The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. ... He made interesting comments, 'We are leaving behind a stable Iraq,' which we knew is not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there and things are unraveling tragically."

Because such a large-scale, coordinated attack likely took weeks to plan, and the political crisis erupted only few days ago, the violence was not likely a direct response to the tensions within the government. Also, al Qaeda opposed Sunni cooperation in the Shiite-dominated government in the first place and is not aligned with Sunni politicians.

The Sunni extremist group often attacks Shiites, who they believe are not true Muslims.

U.S. military officials worried about a resurgence of al Qaeda after their departure. The last American troops left Iraq at dawn Sunday.


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