Yesterday’s synchronized bombings in Baghdad are part of the ongoing campaign by Iraqi insurgents to discredit the government of Prime Minister Maliki and destabilize the country ahead of the January elections. The size of the bombs and the coordinated nature of the almost simultaneous attacks suggest that it was another terrorist operation carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has been severely weakened by American and Iraqi counterterrorist operations in recent years but remains a potent threat, particularly in northern Iraq where it has exploited growing Kurdish-Arab tensions.
The Iraqi government blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist dictatorship which have been granted sanctuary in neighboring Syria. The attacks are likely to worsen Iraqi-Syrian relations, which already have deteriorated because of active Syrian support for Iraqi Baathists and at least passive Syrian support for continued cross-border infiltration of al-Qaeda cadres into Iraq.
The attack was meant to undermine support for Maliki’s government by demonstrating that it can not protect itself, let alone Iraqi civilians. Prime Minister Maliki had become Iraq’s most popular leader in recent years because of the greatly improved security situation in Iraq. Overall violence is down by more than 80 percent from the peak in 2006, before the American surge. But the pullout of American troops from the cities last July has given insurgents more room to maneuver. Yesterday’s bombings are a reminder that those opposed to a democratic Iraq remain a potent threat.
– Jim Phillips is senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.