Violence Erupts Before Iraq’s Elections

January 28, 2010

Militant insurgents bombed several hotels and an office of the ministry over the course of this week in Bagdad, Iraq.

On Monday, there was a coordinated attack in Bagdad in which three bombs in 10 minutes were targeted at hotels known for serving foreign reporters, soon these hotels were to house foreign observers for the March 7th Iraqi elections. An article in the New York Times by Anthony Shadid and John Leland said that these attacks are “underscoring the uncertainty of the political landscape weeks before parliamentary elections.”

Shadid and Leland’s article indicates one way of viewing this new round of violence. One can understand these new bombings as a reaction to Shiites moving to outlaw all Sunnis associated with the former Ba’ath party from running for office. However, this analysis is only valuable if it is understood as one motivation among many for a confluence of actors currently operating on the ground in Iraq.

The way the bombings were carried out indicate al Qaeda involvement. Al Qaeda in Iraq wants to send a message to foreigners in Bagdad that nowhere in the city is safe for them. There is also a desire to shatter any pretense of normalcy in the city, and to halt the United States from withdrawing further troops from the country. Al Qaeda in Iraq desires the United Sates to remain in the country, because U.S. troop presence is a great recruiting tool as well as a non-Muslim target for Iraqis to project their anger onto. With the United States gone, violence in Iraq would erupt into Muslim on Muslim conflict, and such clashes would detract from the War Against the Crusaders storyline that al Qaeda benefits from.

Regional disputes in Iraq threaten to tear that country apart. An Iraqi civil war would not just erupt between the Sunnis and the Shiites: Intra-Sunni disputes and intra-Shiite disputes also cast long shadows across the region. One example is Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi army. The Mahdi army consists of many Shiites who ascribe to a nationalistic ideology. There is a very real danger of violence breaking out between nationalist Shiites and Shiites loyal to the Iranian regime. If this were to happen, Iran could move to fill any political power vacuums that would result. Iran has made no secret of the fact that it covets Iraq’s oil fields.

Waning American influence in Iraq means more uncertainty over future violence. In 2007, American troops were the primary means by which Iraq’s violence was stamped down. With American troops no longer being the first responders, future conflict and acts of terrorism in Iraq will be more difficult to deal with.

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