Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reports of 60 dead as Baghdad slammed with bombing

Today Baghdad is slammed by a bombing. Alsumaria TV, citing "health sources," puts the death toll at "at least 60" with "another 157" injured from a suicide bombing this morning. Fan Chunxu (Xinhua) quotes a Ministry of the Interior source explaining, "The explosion targeting an army recruitment center at Bab al- Muazem area in Baghdad occurred at local time 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT), it was an old building of the Defense Ministry, now up to 45 people were dead and 121 others were wounded." BBC News adds, "The BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says that a suicide bomber walked up to the army recruitment centre where hundreds of people had been queuing for hours - some since Monday evening." At the top of the hour news briefs on NPR this morning, listeners heard Sykes state that no protection was provided for "men looking for employment." The New York Times' Stephen Farrell told PRI's The Takeaway this morning, "how a suicide bomber had just walked up to the recruiting station at 7:30 a.m., waited until he was surrounded by as large a crowd as he could get and then blew himself up." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) adds, "An interior ministry official said a person wearing a suicide vest triggered the explosion a few minutes past 8:00 a.m. local time." Channel 4 News states, "An army source suggested two bombers could have been involved in the attack as recruits gathered outside the centre in large groups to seek work." The Guardian has video footage of some of the survivors after they were taken to the hospital. ITN offers a photo of one survivor in the hospital. Damien Pearse (Sky News) provides a text and video report. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) observes of the bombing, "It marks a resumption of a previously successful tactic aimed at discouraging Iraqis from joining the police and army." Liz Sly and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) note, "It was the bloodiest single attack in months, and came less than two weeks before U.S. forces draw down to 50,000 and formally end their combat mission. Tensions have been rising as the deadlocked negotiations for a new government drag into a sixth month, and there are fears insurgents will try to take advantage of the political and security vacuum to stage a comeback." Sean Alfano (New York Daily News) notes, "Tuesday's bombing marks the fourth time in August Iraqi police or military have been attacked by insurgents."

The Economist notes, "By the end of next year even its military advisors expect to be gone, so they say, unless the Iraqi government asks them to stay (which is looking more likely now that American-made tanks and choppers are arriving in defence ministry lots)." Terry Patar of IHS's Iraq Focus Group tells Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News), "The longer the things go without a government being formed properly, the more of a driver there is for militant groups." The political stalemate.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 10 days.

Yesterday talks between Iraqiya and State Of Law broke down after Nouri declared on state television that Iraqiya was a "Sunni party." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "[Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon] Al-Damalouji said they were demanding an apology to the supporters of al-Iraqiya. Allawi, a secular Shiite, heads the cross-sectarian al-Iraqiya list, which won the largest number of seats in the March 7 national elections. Al-Iraqiya garnered most of the Sunni Arab vote." Leila Fadel and Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) observe, "The move by Allawi's group further isolates Maliki, who is intent on staying in power. This month a coalition of Shiite groups also halted talks with Maliki's group." They also note that US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill (now former US Ambassador) just left the country (James Jeffrey has been confirmed as the new ambassador) and that Gen Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, is set to leave Iraq September 1st. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) points out of Nouri, "Only the Kurds, who do not have enough votes to give Maliki a second term, have somewhat unenthusiastically said they do not reject him." Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4 News) adds:

According to the think tank Stratfor, many of Mr Maliki's allies are taking their orders from Tehran, which is doing its obstructionist utmost.
"There are not enough of these politicians to create a government, but there are enough to block a government from being formed. Therefore, no government is being formed," said the most recent Stratfor analysis. Others blame Mr Allawi's grouping, which brings together both Shia and Sunni politicians, for refusing to accommodate Mr Maliki's faction.
With no government, even the illusion of stability cannot be maintained. Today's bombing of an army recruitment centre, with nearly 50 dead, is a sign of how dangerous the situation is.

Last week, the US State Dept issued a warning on visiting Turkey which opened with:

There is an overall increase in violence and a continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey. The August 15 anniversary of the first PKK (also known as the Kongra-Gel (KGK)) attack against Turkish government installations has historically provided an excuse for an escalation of violence. While the PKK's intentions for the anniversary are unclear, the potential for violence or unrest warrants increased awareness during this period. The Mersin and Kız Kalesi areas in southeast Turkey have been put off limits for American military personnel from August 13–15.
As discussed in previous Warden Messages, the PKK terrorist group has recently threatened increased violent activity in urban areas in Turkey, and there is credible information that the PKK intends to target tourist areas. There have also been recent clashes involving security forces and the PKK in parts of Turkey outside of the PKK's usual operating area in southeast Turkey.
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey to be alert to the potential for terrorist-related violence and the possibility of increased PKK activity in urban and tourist areas, as well as throughout southeastern Turkey. We encourage all U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution and maintain a low profile throughout Turkey. We reiterate Department of State advice to take prudent steps to ensure your personal safety: remain vigilant and aware of surroundings, listen to news reports, avoid crowds and demonstrations, and vary times and routes for all travel.

Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports
, "Turkey and the United States have sped up talks over their cooperation in the U.S. forces' pullout process from Iraq, local newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported on Monday. The two countries have increased the frequency of talks on using the Turkish soil to transfer U.S. troops, arms and logistics equipment out of Iraq, the newspaper quoted unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry sources as saying."

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