With Worst Bombings Since 2007, Is Iraq Unraveling?

The killing of 147 and destruction of three major ministries forces reassessing optimism on Iraq

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The deadliest bombings in Iraq since 2007 struck Baghdad on Sunday, as two synchronized car bombs killed 147, wounded over 500, and destroyed the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Works, and the Baghdad governor's office. The attacks are seen as efforts to disrupt planning for the January elections and derail the country's burgeoning democracy. With American strategic attention increasingly preoccupied with Afghanistan and its possible runoff November election, have we forgotten about Iraq? In the wake of these devastating attacks, the war once considered primed for American withdrawal is under reevaluation.

  • Why Iraq Still Matters  The New York Times's Thomas Friedman explained just a few days ago:
    Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial. This next step is particularly important, which is why we cannot let Afghanistan distract U.S. diplomats from Iraq. Remember: Transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan. [...] Yes, let’s figure out Afghanistan. But let’s not forget that something very important — but so fragile and tentative — is still playing out in Iraq, and we and our allies still need to help bring it to fruition.
  • Long View, Causes for Optimism  The Washington Post's David Ignatius relays reassuring optimism from Baghdad. "It was the worst day of violence this year, and it was, as the terrorists intended, a reminder of the fragility of Iraqi security.  [...] But my Iraqi friends were surprisingly upbeat about the future, even after Sunday's terrible bombings. 'In every sector, Iraq is coming back to its normal mode,' said one. 'There is no way it will slip back,' insisted the other," Ignatius writes. "I asked later if [Centcom commander David Petraeus] thought Sunday's violence would lead people to request that American troops return to the cities, and he shook his head: 'Iraq is a sovereign country. Iraqis will respond to this.'"
  • Why Iraq Won't Stabilize Under U.S.  The Guardian's Sami Ramadani scoffs at notions of a saved Iraq. "But try to tell Iraqis who are not part of the ruling circles that their situation has improved since the occupation and they will remind you not only of the countless dead and injured but also of the million-plus orphans and widows, the 2 million who fled the country, and the 2 million internal refugees, most of whom live in dreadful squalor," he writes. "While Iraq and its people continue to suffer, with most of the western media ignoring their plight, President Obama is still pursuing President Bush's goal in Iraq – to have a government in Baghdad that is closely allied to the US. This is incompatible with bringing about a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq. What US strategists have yet to learn is that the Iraqi people will not freely accept a pro-US regime in Baghdad and that the "exit strategy" will inevitably result in long-term occupation, and bring only more bloodshed and destruction."
  • Iraq Still a Work in Progress  The Times of London's Patrick Cockburn cautions against despair, but reminds us why violence will continue. "There is no need to imagine that the slaughter in Haifa Street yesterday was because American troops withdrew from the cities of Iraq three months ago. With or without US troops, the bombers have been able to get through in Baghdad ever since they destroyed the UN headquarters in 2003," he writes. "The main problem in Iraq is that there is no fundamental agreement between the three main communities: the Shia, the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds. Each group is still looking for the weak points of the others."
  • Danger of Iraq-Syria War  Middle East expert Juan Cole worries what this could inspire in Washington and Baghdad. This is not "a pretext for delaying US troop withdrawal," he writes. "These sorts of attacks happened all the time when the US troops were patrolling Baghdad, and they only ever were stopped by extreme measures that were impractical for the long run, such as walling off whole neighborhoods and producing 80 percent unemployment." Cole also warns that "[Iraqi Prime Minister] Nuri al-Maliki will attempt to deflect any blame for the blasts onto Syria, which he views as harboring Baathist elements who plan these attacks out. Shaky revolutionary regimes like that of Baghdad often go to war to shore themselves up, and Iraq-Syria border clashes are not impossible."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.