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Thursday 22 December 2011

Iraq gripped by sectarian crisis as 63 killed in wave of bombings

Iraq gripped by sectarian crisis as 63 killed in wave of bombings

More than 60 people were killed today in a wave of bombings across the Iraqi capital Baghdad, in a worsening of the political and sectarian crisis that has struck the country since American troops pulled out. 

At least a dozen separate blasts hit mostly Shia neighbourhoods of the Iraqi city, though some Sunni areas were also affected. The attacks ranged from "sticky bombs" to fully-loaded car bombs, some doubled up to ensure emergency crews were caught by the second blast, a common tactic of Sunni insurgents.
At first sight, the blasts are likely to be attributed to Sunni groups, in response to the hard line taken by the Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the days since American forces observed President Obama's promise to withdraw by the end of the year.
He has issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, accusing him of running a hit squad, and called for a vote of no confidence against his own Sunni deputy, vice-premier Saleh al-Mutlaq.
The worst single incident this morning was a suicide attack near a government office in which a stolen ambulance packed with explosives was detonated by its driver, sending debris into the air and into the grounds of a nearby kindergarten. Police said at least 18 people were killed in that bombing alone.
The series of attacks was on course to be the most lethal since at least August. Police suggested they were designed to instil fear rather than to hit specific targets. "They didn't target any vital institutions or security positions," the Baghdad security spokesman, Major General Qassim Atta, said. "They targeted children's schools, day workers, the anti-corruption agency."
President George W. Bush's "surge", combined with a tactic of using militant Sunni groups against the even more violent local al-Qaeda network, brought the intense violence of 2005-7 under some sort of control by 2008.
Elections last year, which ended in an uneasy coalition government, were supposed to cement the uneasy truce between Sunni and Shia politicians and gangs loyal to them. By agreement, the prime minister was to be Shia, the President Kurdish and the Vice-President Sunni.
But after the final pull-out of American troops last week, Mr Maliki moved quickly to assert control, targeting the country's two most powerful Sunni politicians. Mr Hashemi is now in hiding in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of the north.
Al-Qaeda are the most likely perpetrators of the attacks, a clearly well-designed and sophisticated operation, and are probably hoping to exploit the political situation to foment further sectarian bloodshed.
Iyed Allawi, head of the Iraqiya party of which both men are members, said: "We have warned long ago that terrorism will continue against the Iraqi people unless the political landscape is corrected and the political process is corrected, and it becomes an inclusive political process and full blown nonsectarian institutions will be built in Iraq."

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