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Iraqis blame politics, election for Baghdad bombs

Reuters

October 26, 2009

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government blamed the bloodiest bombings in years on al Qaeda and other extremists, but many ordinary Iraqis think political infighting before next year's election is the cause and fear worse is yet to come.

Baghdad was ensnared in a major traffic jam a day after the twin suicide bombs that killed more than 150 people, as the government, facing criticism from opponents for sleeping on the job, set up extra checkpoints and searched every vehicle.

"The blood of Iraqis is very cheap and I ask, how many victims will it take to convince the government that it has totally failed?" Hameed Salam, a former army officer now driving a taxi cab, shouted Monday.

Iraq's ballot in January is expected to focus on security gains under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki after years of war, and sticky questions of the distribution of power and wealth.

The threat of more attacks looms as rivals seek to undermine Maliki and insurgents try to upset the electoral process.

Many Iraqis say they see divisions and infighting ahead of Iraq's second post-invasion national vote as the prime source of instability in the world's 11th largest crude producer.

While violence has fallen since Washington sent thousands of extra troops, attacks are common in the politically-divided nation of 30 million people, and residents believe that bombings and other clashes are likely to increase ahead of the vote.

"The government is not in control of the security situation and political leaders quarrel over power," said Alaa Hussain, a former military officer.

"Maliki is not a superman and he cannot take control over the security of the country unless there is cooperation and union between the parties and politicians."

BLOODY DAYS

Many residents in Baghdad see a hazy connection between political disputes in parliament and violence in the streets. Politicians are currently at loggerheads over a law that will stipulate how the January election is run.

"The return of these large-scale bombings is because of the proximity of elections," said Haider Mohammed, a 34-year-old shop owner. "Haggling between the parties, if they differ on an issue, is reflected in the security situation," he said.

Iraq's parliament has so far failed to resolve a dispute over how to conduct the vote in the city of Kirkuk, disputed between Arabs and ethnic Kurds.

The impasse has cast doubt over whether the January 16 date is feasible and raised questions about whether politicians can make tough decisions for a nation emerging from decades of strife.

But Iraq is a far cry from the days of sectarian carnage that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The government says its doors are open for business and it is starting to sign multibillion dollar deals with global oil firms.

Security remains fragile, and officials fear attacks like those Sunday or the bombings of the finance and foreign ministries in August are aimed a re-igniting sectarian war.

"(Sunday's) bloody bombing was a definite message for Maliki's government. Stop bragging about achieving security," said Thamir al-Ani, 35, a government employee.

The August 19 "Bloody Wednesday" bombings and the attack on Sunday raised doubts about Iraqi forces' ability to take over security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centres in June ahead of their complete withdrawal in 2011.

"We were talking about bloody Wednesday. Now we'll talk about bloody Sunday. I am afraid with the continuation of these bombings all our days will be bloody," political analyst Haider al-Mulla said.

(Additional reporting by Suadad al-Sahly and Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Michael Christie)






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