Series Of Bombings Kill Dozens Across Iraq

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Anthony Shadid of the New York Times about a series of bombings in Iraq on Wednesday — a show of strength by terrorists as the U.S. military lowers the number of troops in the country. It was a surprise show of force.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Insurgent attacks exploded across Iraq today - car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombs - some two dozen attacks, taking the lives of at least 56 people and injuring far more.

SIEGEL: There's a chilling passage in Anthony Shadid's report from Baghdad today in The New York Times. At the scene of a bomb attack in the Iraqi capital, soldiers and police were brawling. Cranes and bulldozers were at work trying to rescue victims buried under a police station.

A bloody day, Khalil Ahmed, a 30-year-old engineer says. From the day of the fall of Saddam until now, this is what we have: explosions, killing and looting. This is our destiny. Its already written for us.

Well, Anthony Shadid joins us now from Baghdad, and that, that was just the biggest of several bombings across Iraq today that coincide with U.S. forces scaling back their numbers and their role. What happened today?

Mr. ANTHONY SHADID (The New York Times): That's right, Robert. It was a remarkable assault today. You saw attacks in 13 towns and cities, from southernmost Basra all the way north to Mosul. It showed a degree of coordination, it showed a degree of prowess, and it seemed to be in some ways an insurgent response to American contentions that this war is coming to a responsible end.

SIEGEL: So for a couple of hours this morning in Iraq, people all over the country were aware of attacks that were underway, bombings, roadside bombs, car bombs, various kinds of attacks.

Mr. SHADID: That's right, Robert, and it was really interesting. I think, you know, often the Americans have portrayed this conflict as a linear conflict. We've arrived at deadlines, at timetables, August 31st being the latest of these deadlines.

I think what strikes you in Baghdad these days is the sense of the recurrent. The scenes at the bombing itself were repetitive and familiar, in a way: people sweeping up glass, cries of elderly women that were left homeless. It is that sense of things happening again and again that I think is so striking these days.

SIEGEL: So this was a demonstration of a degree of strength that would have been doubted otherwise.

Mr. SHADID: That's right. We've heard, I think, throughout this month, as the United States military brings its numbers to below 50,000 in line with a deadline set by the Obama administration, that the Iraq police and the security forces are ready to inherit sole control of security in the country.

But what we saw today was a remarkable degree of coordination and an ability by the insurgents to pretty much strike anywhere they wanted in Iraq. And they did that.

SIEGEL: When you speak of insurgents, what groups do you have in mind?

Mr. SHADID: Well, it's often kind of put under this umbrella of al-Qaida in Iraq. And we have to make a distinction between them and the better known al-Qaida in Afghanistan. This is more of a homegrown group. It's predominately Sunni. It also goes under the name The Islamic State of Iraq.

They actually put out a statement today, saying this is, you know, part of the countdown for them retaking control of the country, for returning to the embrace of Islam.

These attacks were expected, to a certain degree. I mean, there was a weird sense of anticipation in some ways that these attacks were going to come. But I think even that anticipation didn't seem to brace the security forces all that well. They did show a remarkable degree of vulnerability in these attacks across the country.

SIEGEL: In your story today, you describe the frustration of Iraqis with their own security forces and their soldiers at the scene in Baghdad. It sounds like it was a rather angry scene.

Mr. SHADID: You know, it's basically been a summer of discontent here. What we saw at the scene today I think was that discontent crystallized. Police tried to stop residents from entering the bomb scene. Residents in turn heckled them for their impotence.

The insurgents were obviously trying to sow chaos and confusion in the country. And in this scene in Baghdad, where the police station was destroyed, that was evidently the case.

SIEGEL: But what you've described there is anger at the inability of the state to cope with this problem. Do you sense anywhere in Iraq sympathy with this movement and resonance among, say, Sunni Muslims that they're with this movement, these insurgents?

Mr. SHADID: There is still support out there for the insurgents. But I think you don't need all that many people to fight an insurgency. You don't need all that much popular support. Even if these insurgents do, as the military says, number in the hundreds, it's more: Do they have enough support to sustain this insurgency as the Americans withdraw?

SIEGEL: Anthony Shadid of The New York Times, in Baghdad. Thank you.

Mr. SHADID: Thank you.

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