The attacks, which wounded at least 147 people, included explosions in two Shiite neighborhoods in the capital and a suicide bombing next to a large group of Shiites on a pilgrimage in southern Iraq. The violence occurred against the backdrop of a deepening political standoff between the country’s Shiite and Sunni leaders.
A majority of the Sunni-supported Iraqiya political bloc boycotted parliamentary proceedings Thursday. Members of the group accuse Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, of trying to dissolve a political framework established under U.S. guidance to ensure power-sharing among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
“Rather than sharing power, he wishes to create turbulence between political parties of Iraq for the purpose of maintaining and consolidating his own power,” Haider al-Mulla, a spokesman for Iraqiya, said this week.
In an e-mailed statement, Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Maliki, said terrorists are trying to ignite a war between Shiites and Sunnis. “That is why you see them attack such religious symbols like the Shiite practice of pilgrimage,” Moussawi said. He also said Iraqiya leaders are aggravating sectarian tensions.
Just a day after the U.S. military’s Dec. 18 departure, Maliki’s security forces accused Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, of running a hit squad, prompting him to flee the capital and igniting the political crisis.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the latest “acts of terror.” “They are desperate attempts by the same kind of folk who’ve been active in Iraq trying to turn back the clock,” she said. Nuland said Vice President Biden and other administration officials are continuing to press Iraqi leaders to hold formal talks aimed at ending the political conflict.
“We are quite encouraged that a number of Iraqi politicians are also calling for such a meeting, which we hope takes place soon.”
Lt. Col. Joel Rayburn, an Iraq analyst at the National Defense University who earlier served as a U.S. intelligence officer in the country, said the attack on the Shiite pilgrims could embarrass Maliki’s government, which has staked its reputation on protecting such pilgrimages. If the attacks continue, they could spark a reemergence of the Shiite Mahdi Army, a militia that was created by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to protect Shiites when the government appeared unable to do so.
“And there won’t be anything Maliki can say or do against it,” said Rayburn, stressing that he was expressing his opinions and not those of the university.