August 09 bombing of government buildings in central Baghdad (CNN)
In the fall of 2009 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was claiming that security had improved in Iraq and it was due to his strong leadership. As a sign of progress he ordered blast walls to be taken down in Baghdad. (1) The celebration was shot lived as a series of car bombs hit government buildings in the center of Baghdad in August and October, and a third attempt was foiled in September. All the evidence pointed to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) being responsible, but Maliki blamed Baathists instead in an attempt to rally the Shiite masses behind him after he’d been embarrassed by these security failures.
Starting in August 2009 the Iraqi capital faced a series of high-profile bombings. On August 19, vehicle bombs hit the Foreign and Finance Ministries, and the Rashid Hotel. Then on September 22 four car bombs were discovered before they went off. Finally, on October 25 a bus and a minivan bomb went off at the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Council building. Hundreds of people were killed and wounded as a result. After each attack, there were different reactions.
The Maliki administration immediately blamed Baathists and foreign countries for the series of bombings, while evidence pointed to ISI. The prime minister said it was Baathists working with Syria that were responsible. He added that one of the incidents was an assassination attempt as he was scheduled to visit the Rashid Hotel on August 19. The PM then recalled Iraq’s ambassador to Syria, and demanded an investigation into the Assad government’s interference in Iraq. (2) Baghdad’s governor added that there was evidence that members of parliament working with Baathists funded by Saudi Arabia were involved. On the other hand, the Baghdad Operations Command said it knew the identities of the suicide bombers in August stating that they had been imprisoned by the Americans in Camp Bucca and were ISI members. Generals Raymond Odierno and Michael Petraeus also blamed ISI. Finally, the Baathists denied they were behind the attacks, while the Islamic State did. Why such divergent views? For one, Maliki was deeply embarrassed by the bombings and was being roundly criticized for the breaches in security after he’d bragged he was responsible for the decline in violence. That led him to blame Baathists since there was a strong fear of revanchsim amongst Shiites and by the premier himself. He was playing politics therefore, to try to restore his standing rather than go after who was really behind the attacks, the Islamic State of Iraq.
1. Al Sumaria, “Qaeda militant says trained in Syria for Iraq attack,” 8/31/09
2. Syria had supported the insurgency since the 2003 fall of Saddam. At the same time, Maliki visited Damascus on August 18, 2009 and created a new cooperation committee between the two countries. Syrian officials were surprised then by the prime minister’s quick change in tone.
Arraf, Jane, “Baghdad governor: Sunni MPs may be arrested for bombing,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/23/09
Associated Press, “Baghdad’s blast walls to come down,” 8/6/09
Filkins, Dexter, “What We Left Behind,” New Yorker, 4/28/14
Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story Of The Struggle For Iraq, From George W. Bush To Barack Obama, New York, Pantheon, 2012
Al Jazeera, “Iraq seeks UN inquiry into blasts,” 10/27/09
Sands, Phil, “A safe haven in Damascus,” The National, 8/29/09
Al Sumaria, “Qaeda militant says trained in Syria for Iraq attack,” 8/31/09
- “Zebari accuses Syria of implication in Iraq attacks,” 10/30/09
Woodward, Bob, The War Within, A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2008