From The New York Times:
July 3, 2012
Dozens Killed in Rising Iraqi Violence, Including at Least 40 by Truck Bomb
BAGHDAD — A truck with explosives hidden in its cargo of watermelons exploded on Tuesday in Diwaniya, a largely Shiite city in southern Iraq, killing at least 40 people, including a 6-year-old boy. It was the deadliest in a string of attacks in central and southern Iraq on Tuesday, continuing a surge in violence that began last month and exacerbating a sense of fatalism in the country.
In general, Iraqis have seen little improvement in their security for nearly three years, despite periodic lulls in violence and the narrative offered by American and some Iraqi officials of steady gains after the departure of the American military more than six months ago.
Antony J. Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., wrote in the current Foreign Affairs that since President Obama took office, “violence in Iraq has declined and remains at historic lows — a trend that has continued since the last U.S. troops departed late last year.”
According to United Nations statistics, however, more Iraqis — civilians and members of the security forces alike — died from attacks in the first six months of 2012 than in the first half of 2011.
Security improved radically in 2007 and 2008, when a “surge” of American troops was sent to Iraq. But according to the United Nations figures, the rate of violence has been roughly level since 2009. The organization, which compiles data from a variety of sources and publishes it online, cautions on its Web site that the data “does not represent the official views of the organization, but provides a snapshot of information available at this time.”
The United Nations reckoned that through June, 2,101 Iraqis were killed in violent attacks this year, compared with 1,832 in the first half of 2011.
Lately, many of the victims have been Shiites killed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that has claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks. The violence has not had any noticeable political impact, nor does it appear to threaten the state or indicate a return to widespread sectarian violence of the kind that Iraq suffered in 2006 and 2007.
The national government has been stuck in political paralysis since December, when an arrest warrant was issued for the vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab, on charges that he commanded a death squad responsible for assassinations and bombings. Iraq’s three main factions — the Shiite majority and the minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds — have been contending with one another for political power in a struggle infused with ancient grudges and resentments, precluding any sense of compromise or equanimity.
Sunnis and Kurds have called for the ouster of the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who has been asserting control over the apparatus of state. Many Iraqis worry that Mr. Maliki has gone too far in consolidating power. But others feel that only a strong man at the top can effectively lead the country, and Mr. Maliki’s popularity has increased in many corners of Iraq.
Meanwhile, insurgents seem to be using the political situation as a pretext for attacks, and there is a widespread feeling that at least some of the violence is carried out by groups with links to politicians.
“I want to tell you one thing,” Moktada al-Sadr, the cleric who once led a Shiite insurgent group that fought the Americans and now commands a major bloc in Parliament, said in a recent meeting with Iraqi and foreign journalists. “What is happening is not Sunni and Shia. It’s about the political process. Al Qaeda is not for the Sunnis.”
The truck bomb in Diwaniya on Tuesday morning was detonated near the city’s main fish and vegetable market, where local officials had reopened the streets to vehicles less than five months ago after keeping them closed for years because of security concerns. The area was crowded with morning shoppers at the time of the explosion.
“What did we do wrong?” asked Saad Abbas, a teacher who awoke in a hospital after being wounded in the head and chest. “I was shopping for my family, and I felt a huge explosion. I fell to the ground, and the next thing I know I am in the hospital.”
Over all, the attacks on Tuesday left at least 50 people dead and more than 100 wounded. The variety of methods was indicative of what Iraq still faces daily more than nine years after the American invasion: a huge truck bomb, improvised explosives and assassinations by gunfire.
In Karbala, a holy Shiite city in the south, two homemade bombs that were attached to vehicles detonated in a vegetable market, killing six people and wounding more than 25, according to a local police official. The explosions came three days before an important Shiite religious ceremony is scheduled to be held in the city, raising the specter of further violence against Shiite pilgrims, who are frequently targeted by insurgents.
In Taji, north of Baghdad, explosions killed two and wounded more than 15. Near Baquba, in Diyala Province, gunmen killed a soldier and a police officer, and the bodies of two people who had been shot in the head were found in a farmer’s field, according to a police official.
In Diwaniya, which had been relatively placid before Tuesday, officials imposed a curfew and put out a call for blood donors.
At the badly damaged market, one shop owner considered Iraq’s cruel fate.
“Why is this happening?” asked Saleem Ahmed, who happened to be sheltered behind a shop building when the truck bomb went off. “The terrorists are not targeting the government. It’s the Iraqi soul they are targeting. What I saw today of bodies and wounded people, it’s something I won’t forget. Vegetables were mixed with blood and pieces of flesh, and I helped the wounded get to the hospital.”