Baghdad bombings raise political tensions

The latest bomb attacks in Baghdad have increased pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is already in the cross-hairs of former Shi’ite allies ahead of elections due in January.

Portraying himself as a man who restored security after years of chaos, Maliki has blamed the attacks on neighbouring countries which he says are sheltering enemies of the Iraqi regime, including members of the banned Baath party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Maliki’s critics at home, however, dismiss his argument and say the blame for Sunday’s double suicide bombings that killed 135 people outside government buildings in the capital should fall squarely on his shoulders.

The strongest attacks have come from the Shi’ite parties that dominate the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), particularly the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) and the grouping loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

“Accusing external parties is a way for the government to shirk its responsibilities when it underestimated the [security] situation,” said Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, a SIIC leader.

Sadrist member of Parliament Ghufran al-Saeedi accused Maliki of having double standards by blaming the Baathists for the attacks while welcoming into his ranks members of the Baath party — claims Maliki’s office denies.

Even though the staging of polls scheduled for next January has been drawn into question by Parliament’s failure to pass a new electoral law so far, it has been open season for Maliki and his opponents.

The Buratha website, which is close to the SIIC, reported that the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, Samir al-Samarrai, was slapped by a Maliki guard during the premier’s visit last week to the United States.

“This information is false and behind it lies a desire to sully the reputation of Iraq,” said a statement from Maliki’s office.

For Sadrist MP Baha al-Aaraj, it was Maliki who had opened hostilities by “conducting a smear campaign against us”.

“He reiterated that political groups, which he did not name, practiced obstruction against government projects and argued the Sadr movement demanded the release of all prisoners, while we only want the release of the innocent,” said Aaraj.

But Ali al-Mussawi, an adviser to Maliki, said “such groups, instead of defending their political platform, utter slander against others, which proves their inability to convince voters”.

“We expected a tough campaign but not one so immoral. That does not worry us because people understand these opponents are all [in Parliament] to block projects initiated by Mr Maliki in favour of the people,” he added.

Appointed prime minister in 2006 by members of the main Shi’ite parliamentary group to which he belonged, Maliki has since decided to go it alone, forming his own multi-confessional alliance, known as the State of Law coalition, which largely swept swept provincial polls last January.

But in Iraq’s merciless political struggle, the prime minister and his friends are also hitting back.

Baghdad governor Salah Abdul Razzaq has called for the sacking of Interior Minister Jawad Bolani after the Baghdad bombings.

But Bolani, an independent Shi’ite, is a threat to Maliki because he has also come up with his own multi-confessional political bloc bringing together tribes from the western Sunni province of al-Anbar. — AFP

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