Random Attacks On The Increase In Iraq

In Iraq, the formation of a coalition government may be many weeks away, even though elections took place a month ago. As the deadlock drags on, the violence has spiked. More than 100 people have been killed since last Friday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go next to Iraq, which still does not have a new government. The formation of a coalition government may be weeks away, though elections took place a month ago. And in the meantime, the violence has increased. The streets of Baghdad are deserted today after a string of random bombings around the capital yesterday. More than 100 people have been killed in recent days.

NPR's Baghdad bureau chief Quil Lawrence is following this story. Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just called them random. Is that correct? Is there no pattern at all in these attacks?

LAWRENCE: Yesterday's attacks seemed to be random, hitting all sorts of areas around the capital. There appear to be two goals we've seen in the last several months. Big car bomb attacks seem to be aimed at government ministries, and as we saw on Sunday, at foreign embassies, trying to cripple the government and all of its functions.

The other goal seems to be pushing Iraqis back toward the sectarian violence that we saw that nearly took the country apart in 2006, '07, and '08, particularly the massacre we saw last Friday of 24 people south of Baghdad. It had all the hallmarks of the sectarian death squad killing we saw in the past. There were people dressed in army uniforms. They showed up in a Sunni village late at night with a list of people who they then executed.

Yesterday we saw these attacks hit all around the capital. But even then, there was something of a pattern, I suppose, in that they hit all of the old battle zones of the sectarian fighting. It seemed almost a message saying start this again. That was their goal.

INSKEEP: So they were going against the government and going against the people. Let's take those two targets one by one. Is the government still functioning amid all this violence?

LAWRENCE: Well, the government is having trouble for a couple of reasons. These attacks have been very well planned to take apart some of the basic functions of government, like the Finance Ministry. So salaries aren't as easily paid when the Finance Ministry comes down in a massive car bomb - that was several months back. And they also seem to be showing that the Iraqi security forces are unable to prevent these big car bombs from getting into one of the most heavily guarded - outside the Green Zone, probably the most heavily guarded part of Baghdad.

INSKEEP: And then the people, are the people taking this cue to resume sectarian violence attacks between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

LAWRENCE: So far I've seen more sort of resignation than anger. Even people who are disillusioned by the way things are going, people of either sect who Sunnis will often say, well, this government is dominated by Iran, it's a Shia dictatorship now, but theyve told me that they dont think they'll return to violence.

And the same with Shiites I've talked to. They dont seem to have the stomach to go back to this kind of violence. And it has to be said, most of the sectarian militias are at least dormant at the moment.

But I would say that Iraqis are also clinging to the way life has improved here. There are so many signs of people trying to start businesses and trying to get out in public again, and they're loathe to give that up.

INSKEEP: And let's look at one more factor here. The professional civil service seems to be functioning at least as much as they can, given that their buildings are being bombed. But we mentioned that there is no - they have no political bosses. There is no formal government that has been formed. Is the violence affecting the effort to actually form a coalition that can rule Baghdad and rule Iraq?

LAWRENCE: I have to say, talking to political leaders, they dont seem concerned by it. Many of these people were resistance fighters for so many years. They seem to take this violence in stride. I think the violence seems to be more of a filling in this gap, this lame duck caretaker government for the next bunch of weeks and months. The place it might come to a crunch is if this level of violence we saw this week continues and the government has to take some sort of decisive action, something verging on martial law, well, the question would be: what legitimacy does this government have?

Several hundred of the parliamentarians were voted out in this last election. Only 62 remain of the incumbents. It's possible that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki won't return to office. And if he starts having to take very strong and decisive measures again, there might be serious questions about legitimacy, and that could really stoke some of these underlying tensions.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Baghdad.

Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve.

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