A series of coordinated bombs tore through Baghdad this morning, killing 127 and wounding at least 450. It was the third attack of this kind since August. The second, in October, was the deadliest in Iraq in 2007 and stoked fears of Iraq unraveling. The intervening periods have been relatively calm, but this third large-scale attack has raised concerns about how long such violence will continue and why it was happening at all. The greatest worries are that the recently-resolved constitutional crisis, which set the first elections in years for early March and rests on shaky political negotiations, could disintegrate.
- Likely Al-Qaeda Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating thinks so. "Today's bombings are Iraq's worst since the attacks on city administration building's in October that killed 155. While those attacks were blamed on loyalists to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, there are increasing fears of a resurgence of Sunni militants led by al-Qaeda in Iraq, who could be trying to discredit authorities before the upcoming parliamentary elections."
- How Far Will Iraq Decline? The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan worries. "Sectarian tension pushed the election back two months; and al Qaeda is determined to exploit it again to rip the country to pieces. And this is happening with 120,000 US troops still in the country, and before elections that could generate any number of sectarian tensions. Those who believe Iraq is over as a story are not, in my judgment, paying attention," he writes. "[B]etween August and September 2009, US forces have actually had to increase their support of Iraq's security forces, not decrease it on the way out."
- A Political Act The Economist argues, "The political point being made by insurgents with their latest attack in Baghdad is unmistakable." They explain, "The continuing attacks in Baghdad highlight a partial failure to achieve political reconciliation. While some of the alliances competing in the forthcoming election are non-sectarian, the blame for the attacks follows a familiar pattern."
Such recriminations play into the hands of insurgents, thought to be Sunni extremists variously identified as Baathists, Saddamists or al-Qaeda in Iraq. A divided country is less likely to find the courage to turn up at polling stations. This could undermine the legitimacy of the next government and trigger further recriminations between the parties vying to form the next administration, especially if the bombings continue, as seems likely.
- Obama Must Keep Troops Commentary's Max Boot insists it's the only thing holding Iraq together. "Will the good continue to outweigh the bad in the future, as it has so far in 2009? Or will al-Qaeda's attempts to trigger a wider conflict pay off? It is impossible to know. All we can know for sure is that the presence of U.S. troops provides a vital stabilizing element that prevents Iraq from going off the rails entirely. That is why it is so important that the Obama administration continue to show flexibility in its troop drawdown and not get locked into a premature exit that could jeopardize all the progress that has been made so far."
- Bigger Than Elections TalkLeft's Big Tent Democrat shakes his head. "Of course elections are not the issue. Power is. The struggle between Sunni and Shia, and different factions of Sunni and Shia, will continue long after the US is gone. That is Iraq's future," he writes. "The beginning of the end of the US presence in Iraq is providing us with a bit of a preview of what we can expect."