Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Was Behind Wednesday's Attacks?

There is near-full agreement in Iraq that Wednesday’s wave of attacks were more than indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Most politicians, commentators and observers believe those behind the attacks want to influence political alignments and voter decisions before general elections next January.

Most fingers point at a “neighboring country”. This “neighboring country” to some is Saudi Arabia but is Iran to many others. Either way, most people agree that the attacks were beyond al-Qaeda’s or any other individual group’s capability.

This is a plausible assumption. Baghdad has not seen a similar wave of highly coordinated attacks and powerful bombings in more than a year. During that time it has been all down hill for al-Qaeda’s network in Baghdad. Most operatives had either been killed or captured or had to flee and find new safe havens around Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk to the north and northeast. More important is that almost all of the locals who had fought alongside al-Qeada or provided its cells with logistic support had turned on the organization and joined the Sons of Iraq. It is also important to remember that three years ago there were parts of Baghdad where security forces could not go but all those former “no-go” zones are now accessible to the security forces.

Some argue that the departure of U.S. troops from cities gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to regroup. However, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda managed in only six weeks to reestablish itself in Baghdad in a way that enables it to plan and execute a campaign of this magnitude and level of sophistication.

The most widely accepted theory is that the attacks were the works of a neighboring country assisted by collaborators from within the ISF and influential political parties. There are, however, two different explanations for the purpose of the country that ordered the attack. Some accuse Saudi Arabia and what is left of the Ba’ath Party of trying to reignite sectarian tensions and derail the political process. Others say it was Iran and its surrogates in Iraq. They argue that Iran wants to put pressure on Maliki to join the fragmented Shiite political alliance.

The assumption for the latter is that Iran is not in favor of a powerful central government in Iraq led by an increasingly nationalist figure like Maliki. In this context, the attacks would serve Iran’s interests in several ways.

First of all, the deterioration in security undermines Maliki’s reputation and weakens his position in a critical time before elections. Second, it spreads fear among the people about a possible return to the dark days of 2006-2007. This in turn reduces the chances of secular parties and encourages voting along sectarian lines as a means to seek protection from the perceived threat other sects poses. Third, it sends a message to Maliki that if he stays close to the U.S. and insists on his increasingly nationalist, non-sectarian course, then he would not have much of a country left to rule.

No comments: