Reappraising U.S. Withdrawal from Iraqi Cities
Jane Arraf, Baghdad Correspondent, Christian Science Monitor
Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
August 25, 2009
Veteran reporter Jane Arraf says in an interview from Baghdad that the massive truck bombings on August 19 in the capital have shaken the Iraqi people and government. She says the repercussions will be lasting. U.S. authorities, Arraf says, may have to take a new look at the policy of leaving security under Iraqi control in urban centers. She says that the bombings may make it more difficult to continue the reconciliation policy of bringing Shiites and Sunnis closer. "Iraq is a really complicated place to begin with but this attack, and its repercussions, could really threaten stability," Arraf says.
In recent days there were truck bombings in the center of Baghdad, killing many people. There have been a lot of recriminations as to who was responsible--al-Qaeda, the Baathist party. On the other hand it's the start of Ramadan, which is usually the time when people try to get together late at night to celebrate. What is the mood like in Baghdad right now? I assume it's very hot?
It's actually about 120 degrees and there are many, many people who don't have air conditioning and still have electricity only an hour or two per day. It is pretty brutal, which is why not a lot usually happens during Ramadan when it falls in the summer. The bombings occurred last Wednesday and they were really incredibly devastating. We're talking about suicide truck bomb attacks on two of the symbols of Iraqi sovereignty, at the heart of Iraqi statehood, the finance ministry and the foreign ministry. At the foreign ministry, where I went just after the bombing, and where over the weekend I talked to some of the survivors and the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, we saw a truly devastating site. These were the worst attacks in more than a year and half, but it's really the repercussions that will have as major an impact as the bombings themselves.
What kind of repercussions?
On the security level, it has cast light on what really, truly does appear to be systemic failure of the Iraqi security apparatus. We're talking about the ability of whoever was behind this to put together two huge truck bombs--these were four-ton trucks. The one that hit the foreign ministry was packed with two tons of explosives and they were allowed to drive through the streets on roads where you're not supposed to drive any trucks in daylight hours. That says something about what the government believes is negligence, if not collaboration, by some of the security forces. They've arrested eleven security commaders for investigation.
The foreign ministry is protected by the pesh merga, the military arm of the Kurds. Each ministry here was given to a specific political party or political faction as part of the way that the country was set up when the United States was in charge. The foreign minister is Kurdish and the pesh merga control the foreign ministry. According to the foreign minister, there hasn't been a security breach within the building in six years. When the Baghdad government and higher authorities decided that things were safe enough, they [dismantled] some of the blast walls and some of the checkpoints, [but] they didn't actually consult with the foreign ministry. And that's part of the reason why this truck bomb was able to barrel down that road. That in itself was a huge breach. In July in towns throughout the north, some of them in disputed areas, there were horrendous bombings at Shiite mosques and other soft targets. Some people believe that this is all connected, that those security breaches should have been examined. Part of this, of course, is the fact that the United States had a different role here after June 30 when it pulled out of the cities, which means the United States doesn't really have a visibility, they can't do the same intelligence gathering, which really means they can't play as much of a role as they did before June 30...(more)