Security in Iraq deteriorates in the wake of US troop withdrawal

Carly Nyst
10 August 2009

series of blasts in Shi'ite Muslim areas of Baghdad and northern Iraq killed 41 people on Monday, raising fears of a deterioration in the security situation since US forces withdrew from urban centres in June.

A car bomb and roadside bomb exploded in the predominantly Shi'ite areas in the southwest of Baghdad, killing sixteen people and injuring 81. In al-Khazna, a Shi'ite village east of Mosul, two truck bombs were simultaneously detonated, leaving 26 dead and 128 wounded. The blasts destroyed some forty houses in the village, which is home to a small Shia Shabka community of Kurdish origin.

The areas in and around Mosul, capital of the Ninevah province, are the location of almost daily bombings and shootings, as disputes between Arabs and Kurds threaten the long-term stability of Iraq. Last week, a string of bombings targeting Shi'ite Muslims in Baghdad and northern Iraq culminated in the death of 38 people from a suicide car bomb, which exploded outside a Shi'ite Muslim mosque near Mosul. The attacks occurred at the end of a Shi'ite Muslim celebration, and have often targeted pilgrims participating in such celebrations.

Since US forces withdrew combat troops from cities and towns on 30 June, violence has escalated in northern Iraq and Shi'ite areas of Baghdad. After a steady 18 months of decreasing violence, recent bloodshed has raised doubts about the preparedness of Iraqi security forces to ensure stability without the assistance of US troops. While US forces continue to play a training and advisory role, security responsibility for major urban areas now lies with Iraqi forces.

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The toD verdict: The state of security in Iraq will dictate the speed at which forces are withdrawn from the country. Recently, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarked that, if the security situation improves in Iraq, there may a "modest acceleration" of troop withdrawal, with a further 5,000 troops leaving by December 2009. However, and conversely, the rate of troop withdrawal will continue to have a significant impact on the stability of the country. The security situation remains perilous; if conditions deteriorate, the United States must be prepared to reassess its plans for troop withdrawal, so as to best preserve stability and prepare the country for its scheduled elections in January 2010. Otherwise, argues Daniel Senor, adjunct senior fellow for middle eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, the US is in danger of doing in Iraq what it previously did in Afghanistan; losing "a key fight by focusing too intently on another theater."

Moreover, the state of security in Iraq in the coming months may well affect the outcome of the upcoming elections, argues Joost Hilterman of Foreign Policy. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has campaigned heavily on law and order issues, is likely to be politically disadvantaged by an increase in violence which exposes his inability to preserve stability in the country. Should attacks in Baghdad and northern Iraq continue, Maliki's political opponents are expected to capitalise on Maliki's inability to maintain security, thereby diminishing his political authority and increasing the likelihood of contentious and potentially flawed elections next January.  Furthermore, politicians are currently negotiating coalitions for the elections, and sectarian violence against Kurdish, Sunni or Shi'ite targets will only make more difficult the task of finding political common ground.

ETA blamed for Mallorca bombings

Two small bombs which exploded on the Spanish resort island of Mallorca today have been attributed to the Basque separatist group ETA. No one was injured in the explosions, which were detonated in a beachfront restaurant and an underground passage on the popular tourist island of Mallorca. Police defused a third bomb after coded warnings were phoned in.

The explosions are thought to be the work of ETA, which earlier today published a statement in the Basque newspaper Gara claiming responsibility for four other bombings which have occurred in recent months. The series of bombings have caused the death of three people and injured dozens. Most recently, two police officers died in attacks in Mallorca at the height of the summer tourist season, when a van packed with explosives was detonated near a civil guard barracks in the northern city of Burgos.

The series of blasts coincided with the 50th anniversary of ETA's establishment. The group's violent campaign for an independent Basque state is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 800 people.

Pre-election violence continues in Afghanistan

Taliban guerrillas continued their campaign of pre-election violence on Monday, attacking government buildings in the south of Kabul. Local residents reported that the provincial governor's office was among the buildings targeted in the attacks, which engaged Afghan security forces in gun battles for several hours. The violence comes less than two weeks before presidential and provincial council elections, scheduled for 20 August, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.

US Army General Stanley McChrystal described the current Taliban forces as a "very aggressive enemy" and promised a significant expansion in Afghan security forces in order to meet the challenge. Thanks in part to a renewed American commitment to the Afghan war, the amount of foreign troops in the country has risen to 101,000. Anthony Cordesman, a senior military analyst who had been recently drafting a review with McChrystal, recently warned, however, that a further 45,000 US troops would be necessary to pacify the country.

Five die in explosions and shootout with Islamist militants in Russia

Explosions and a shootout with suspected Islamist militants in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan resulted in the death of four Russian security officials on Monday. Two policemen and a suspected Islamist militant died in the shootout, which occurred when police stopped a car to conduct a document check. Elsewhere in the province, two bombs were detonated near a police station and on a roadside in the southeastern town of Derbent, killing a police officer and a border guard respectively.

The attacks are indicative of the worsening security situation in the mainly Musilm North Caucasus where attacks by Islamic insurgents have increased in recent months, despite the recent calm in Chechnya.

Israel bombs Gaza tunnel in first aerial attack in two months

Israeli warplanes launched an attack on a tunnel under the Gaza Strip boarder with Egypt on Monday, in response to recent mortar and rocket attacks launched from Gaza.  The pre-dawn strike, which incurred no casualties, was the first aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip since 18 June and targeted one of Gaza's many smuggling tunnels. The tunnels, suspected of being used to smuggle explosives among other goods into Gaza from Egypt, are a popular target for Israeli airstrikes although such raids have been fewer in recent months.

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