On Tuesday, a suicide bomber evaded security at a recruitment center for Iraqi security forces in Tikrit, a town about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, perhaps best known as the birthplace of Saddam Hussein (as well as the birthplace of the more highly esteemed Saladin). The detonation of his explosives ripped through the throngs of Iraqi men who had come on this day to seek work in the Iraqi security forces. Around 70 were killed at last count, and hundreds more are said to be injured. A Washington Post report described the ordeal
“It was like the eruption of a volcano, the fires of hell,” said Omar Farouq al-Samarraie, 20, a job applicant whose legs, face and abdomen were severely burned in the midmorning attack.
In the wake of the tragedy, many are already pointing fingers, and rightly so. Yesterday, Time ran a piece that looked at the repercussions that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki may face because of the attack.
Politicians blame al-Maliki. “We are sorry for the victims, but this was not unexpected. There has already been a slaughter here and a slaughter there. This is just the latest in a series of security breakdowns that need to be dealt with,” says Dr. Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish lawmaker and former member of the Governing Council. “None of the security ministries have been appointed — Interior, Defense or Security. At the moment it’s all in the hands of Maliki.” Adds Othman: “We need the whole security policy to be revised, and this needs to be the absolute priority right now.”
The attack certainly brings up important issues, many which center around security, but also other topics as well which I see as the developing trends in Iraq in 2011:
1. The formation of a functioning Iraqi Parliament – Iraqi politicians have convened to form a coalition government, but have yet to agree completely on how that government will be run and who will be tasked to run it. Many parliamentary committee positions remain undecided upon and it is still unclear whether the National Council of Strategic Policies (one of the guarantees that brought Allawi and Iraqiyya into the current government) will have any real say in governing Iraq. Reidar Visser at Iraq and Gulf Analysis has done a wonderful job keeping us up to date on the current political wrangling in Iraq. These issues have great consequences, as a government cannot provide much in the way of coordinating the safety of its citizens if it has no one to give directives on security.
2. Iraqi Security forces: This attack demonstrates the ineffectiveness of Iraqi security forces in a number of areas.When coordinated and done correctly, Iraqi security forces seem more than capable of getting the job done, as witnessed by December’s Ashura celebrations, an annual Shia holiday which brings millions to the city of Karbala. No major incidences of violence occurred as tens of thousands of Iraqi security forces patrolled and kept watch. Yet this highly coordinated and efficient use of force was the antithesis of what took place yesterday, where it seems little was done in order to coordinate for the safety of the crowds that gathered outside the recruiting station. Insurgents and their ever shifting tactics are learning where they can strike and with the most damage. These are just the types of situations where they can still cause large amounts of chaos. Iraqi security forces thus need to coordinate intensively on all levels, whether it be protecting mass crowds, or in establishing security at smaller events.
3. American Presence : Much has been made about the full American troop withdrawal that will be made in December of this year. Maliki has expressly stated that he has no reason to extend the U.S. military stay beyond that point, although many commentators have thought otherwise. Even with U.S. troops leaving, there is a large likelihood that a contingent of U.S. troops may be attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, along with civilian contractors. If events such as today continue unabated, Maliki may be forced to change his tune and request more U.S. assistance. If this happens he will likely lose the support of the Sadrists in his government and thus risks its collapse.
4. Extremism is still a capable force: As this most recent grisly attack has showed, militant extremists (mostly Sunni Islamists) are still able to kill, maim and strike fear into the hearts of Iraqis of all persuasions, be they Sunni or Shia, Muslim or Christian. Attacks on Christian minorities in the last few months has reignited the Iraqi exodus, and depleted the already small number of Christians left in the country relative to before the invasion. Sticky bombs and targeted killings with silencer pistols are commonplace. Government officials are still targeted and still killed.
As the attack yesterday illustrates, Iraq is still a very, very dangerous place. The platitudes about a new Iraq coming from Washington and the Iraqi government continue to fall on deaf ears, as most Iraqis who have seen no real change struggle to pick up the pieces that over thirty years of almost uninterrupted conflict has wrought. Those who will bury their loved ones in the coming days can attest to that.