Two consecutive suicide bombs killed 155 people and wounded more than 500 in Baghdad on Sunday, the BBC reported. The attacks, which occurred in quick succession near the city's heavily-fortified Green Zone, were the deadliest since April 2007. Iraqi officials believe that the target of the attacks were the justice and local government ministries and the headquarters of the provincial government. American troops have been sent in to assist with the aftermath of the explosions, with US President Barack Obama condemning the violence and calling the perpetrators of the killings 'hateful and destructive'.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki pledged bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice, and suggested that supporters of former president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were to blame. 'These cowardly terrorist attacks must not affect the determination of the Iraqi people to continue their struggle against the remnants of the dismantled regime and al-Qaeda terrorists,' he said.
The ToD verdict: Contrary to expectations that the absence of US forces would create a security vacuum , the withdrawal of US forces from Iraqi urban centres in June has not precipitated a hike in violence in the country. Sunday's attacks, however, give ground to the fears of many commentators that violence will increase in the lead up to planned parliamentary elections in January 2010, as militant groups attempt to destabilize the country. President Jalal Talabani accused the attackers of seeking to hijack Iraq's fragile democratic process, by attempting to 'hinder the political process or to stop it and to sabotage what we have built during six years with great sacrifice.' Continued attacks have the potential to seriously undermine the reelection campaign of Maliki, whose popularity has rested upon his ability to ensure security in Iraq. The political opposition has made capital of the attacks, with Wihdaal-Jumaili, a Baghdad Provincial Council member opposed to Maliki's faction, claiming they were 'a clear message to Maliki's government that it cannot control the situation.'
Senior Iraqi politicians are trying to break a deadlock over a draft law which would permit elections to take place in January, and indeed Sunday's suicide bombings coincided with a meeting of politicians that ended without agreement on the issue. Disagreement among the parties on a number of issues has prevented the Iraqi parliament from meeting a deadline to pass the legislation as yet. The United Nations special representative in Iraq, Ad Melkert, recently expressed concern at the failure of the Iraqi parliament to reach consensus on the revised election law, which he described as a 'vital milestone' for the democratization of Iraq. If no agreement can be reached, the vote will proceed under the law that governed the 2005 elections, which provides for 'closed' electoral lists that do not bear the names of the candidates, only their parties or factions. Influential Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Ali Sistani has voiced fears that this would result in lower voter turn out.
Fourteen die in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan
Two separate helicopter crashes in Afghanistan killed fourteen Americans on Monday, The Washington Post reported. US authorities ruled out hostile fire as the cause of a collision between two US helicopters in southern Afghanistan, which killed four American soldiers and wounded two others. Earlier, seven American troops and three civilians were killed when a helicopter crashed in western Afghanistan, leaving eleven other American troops, one American civilian and fourteen Afghans injured. US authorities have not provided any explanation as to the cause of that incident, and while a Taliban spokesman claimed Taliban fighters shot down a helicopter in the Darabam district, the claim could not be verified. The deaths bring the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan in October to 46.
Palestine rules out immediate peace talks
Israel-Palestine peace talks will remain suspended for the indefinite future unless Israel takes considerable steps to meet its obligations under the road map, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday. Erekat accused Israel of failing to 'give a single sign of meeting its obligations under the road map, halting settlement activities and resuming negotiations where they left off,' and indicated that peace talks would not resume any time soon. He implored US President Barack Obama to 'announce that Israel is the party that is obstructing the launching of peace negotiations.' Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations immediately, but has maintained his objection to a complete cessation of construction within settlements, which has been a sticking point in the negotiations. Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, will return to the region for another attempt at restarting peace talks in the coming weeks.
Iran open to accepting UN deal
Iran has indicated that it would be open to exporting some of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing, a proposal which came out of international talks on its nuclear program. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state media agency Irna that Iran could accept parts of the UN deal. His comments are an important sign of official Iranian agreement with the proposals. Iran missed last Friday's deadline to respond to the UN proposal, but has promised to come back to the UN this week with a response.