In Aftermath of Deadly Bombing, Iraqi Police Face Local Ire

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 27, 2009

BAGHDAD, March 26 -- There was a numbed moment Thursday, the interregnum between an attack and its carnage. Then the anger unfurled, as survivors took stock of a car rigged with explosives that had detonated in a market crowded with women and children in northern Baghdad, killing 16 people and wounding dozens more.

"All of this is your fault!" Sgt. Ali Abbas, one of the policemen who arrived at the scene, recalled women shouting at him and his colleagues.

Amid the panic of survivors and the screams of the wounded, elderly women threw sandals at them, he said. Others spat at the police officers and shouted insults.

"Why all these problems?" a woman named Um Ali shouted as she walked down the street hours later. "We're celebrating there are no explosions and now they're back?"

She screamed to no one in particular. "Why did they come back?"

There was a similar bombing in August 2003 in the same neighborhood, known as Shaab. Then, it was American soldiers who were the first to arrive after a car bomb shattered windows as far as 100 yards from the explosion. Blood smeared the pavement and soaked the littered ground. Store signs hung askew, shards of plaster and concrete dangled and electrical wire was twisted in a web ordered by destruction.

His face sweaty, a teenager glared at an American soldier passing him.

"Where were you, mister?" he asked in Arabic.

The soldier, not understanding, looked straight ahead.

On Thursday, Abbas and his colleagues understood what was directed at them.

"They have a right," the sergeant said. "Something like this happens and where's the government? Where are the security forces? They have the right."

Anger directed at Iraqi security forces is not unprecedented, and in places like Abu Ghraib and Dora, it has sometimes born a sectarian bent. But Thursday's outburst was in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood, directed against predominantly Shiite security forces. It also illustrated the task ahead as security forces are forced to assume more and more responsibility. Although far more popular than the U.S. soldiers they replace, the goodwill they enjoy can last only as long as security they provide.

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