Bombing Shows Fragility of Iraq's Security Gains

A medic attends to Abdullah Mohammed, 9, after he was injured in a suicide bombing in Baghdad. A spate of attacks in the capital has caused alarm, but the U.S. military says violence is still down from last year.
A medic attends to Abdullah Mohammed, 9, after he was injured in a suicide bombing in Baghdad. A spate of attacks in the capital has caused alarm, but the U.S. military says violence is still down from last year. (By Adil Al-khazali -- Associated Press)
[Map: Three bombs kill at least 28 in Baghdad, Iraq]
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BAGHDAD, Nov. 10 -- For years, as car bombs rocked Baghdad, a wall of three-foot-high concrete barriers closed off the road next to Imad Karim's restaurant in a northern district.

Walls define much of this historic city -- slabs of concrete erected by U.S. soldiers or residents that have turned neighborhoods into mazes aimed at frustrating attackers. Only recently, as security improved, did someone wedge open the barriers by Karim's Abu Wael restaurant. No one noticed when someone drove a white Volkswagen Passat through the opening and parked.

At about 8 a.m. Monday, explosives in the Passat's trunk detonated, just as a minibus packed with 20 people passed by on the busy road on the other side of the barriers, witnesses and U.S. officials said. The minibus was engulfed in flames. Minutes later, two roadside bombs exploded near the mangled Passat, showering the occupants of Abu Wael and another nearby restaurant with shards of glass and blowing in their corrugated-metal roofs, according to witnesses.

At least 28 people died and more than 50 were injured, according to Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a Defense Ministry spokesman, speaking on the al-Arabiya satellite network. The U.S. military put the toll far lower, at five dead.

"There is no security," Karim said glumly as he stood in front of his restaurant amid twisted metal window grates and gray rubble. "We only hear about security from the TV stations."

The U.S. military says a spate of recent bombings in Baghdad has not altered the broader trend: Violence is down dramatically in Iraq from last year. There are about four attacks a day in the capital, compared with 24 in December, according to the military's count.

"These things tend to ebb and flow over time," said Brig. Gen. William Grimsley of the 4th Infantry Division, the deputy commanding general for U.S. forces in the Baghdad area.

But Monday's bombing shows how fragile the security gains still are. And it is a sign that it may be a long time before Baghdad's walls finally come down.

The walls started going up after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The American military set up 12-foot-high, six-ton blast walls to protect its installations and other sensitive locations. Gradually, concrete barriers closed off roads near government buildings, mosques, police stations, universities.

Within neighborhoods, residents started blocking streets themselves -- using oil drums, tires, chunks of concrete, even logs -- to limit access. In 2007, the wall-building accelerated as the U.S. military enclosed entire neighborhoods as part of its counterinsurgency campaign, strictly controlling movement in and out.

The military credits the walls with playing a big role in reducing violence.

Attackers "can't do mischief in one neighborhood and simply run to the other," said Capt. Brett Walker, of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, at a recent briefing on the military's wall efforts. Bombers also cannot get close to many crowded sites, such as markets and mosques, where they have wreaked havoc in the past.


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