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Attacks in Iraq heighten political tensions

One day after a deadly series of attacks, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appointed a member of his coalition as acting defense minister, drawing Sunni anger.

In Iraq, 86 dead

Aug. 16, 201100:11
/ Source: The New York Times

One day after insurgents unleashed the most lethal series of attacks in Iraq this year, political tensions flared as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appointed a member of his governing coalition as acting defense minister.

The appointment appeared to be a bid by the prime minister to offer some response to a deadly series of attacks that highlighted the weakness of Iraq’s American-trained security forces. But if the appointment was intended to show resolve, it also underscored the internal divisions that continue to undermine the government’s ability to address Iraq’s many lingering troubles. Some Sunni leaders criticized the appointment as reneging on an earlier political deal.

The Monday attacks also served to unnerve Washington, coming a few months before the United States is scheduled to withdraw its remaining troops. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she abhorred “the loss of life and the ability of these terrorists to continue to operate inside Iraq,” but that Iraq could do more to protect itself.

In Iraq, 86 dead

Aug. 16, 201100:11

“The Iraqis themselves have more capacity than they did have, but they’ve got to exercise it,” Mrs. Clinton said at the National Defense University at an appearance with the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta.

The 42 attacks on Monday struck all across the country, targeting Sunnis and Shiites, civilians and security personnel. At least 89 people were killed and 300 wounded. But while the attacks did not single out any group, many Sunnis said they felt most vulnerable, especially after Mr. Maliki’s choice for minister was announced. Although the new acting minister, Sadun al-Dulaimi, is a Sunni, he is not a member of Iraqiya, a political bloc that many Sunnis support. He was one of the first Sunnis to back Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, for a second term as prime minister.

“The problem is the government is not backing us or supporting us,” said Ahmed Abu Resha, the head of the Awakening Movement, which began in 2006 and played a central role in ending the daily sectarian violence that plagued the country. “The government must also contain the members of the Awakening and start training them.”

Sectarian bloodletting
One attack on Monday especially frightened Sunni leaders because it recalled the worst days of the sectarian bloodletting. After sunset, two gunmen entered a mosque, called out seven names of people they said were working with the Awakening Movement and executed them. The gunmen said they were members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Security officials in Baghdad tried to reassure the public Tuesday that they were in control and could safeguard the country. But their efforts did little to convince many when they announced that they had arrested a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia — 10 days ago.

Sunni leaders said they looked to the government to be reassured and were instead disappointed.

“The security breach that we witnessed yesterday is due to the fact that we don’t have qualified leaders running our security forces,” Ahmed Sliman, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, said on Tuesday. “They have taken so long to fill these positions, and look at what the results are.”

One of Mr. Maliki’s top advisers said that Mr. Maliki had appointed Mr. Dulaimi after leaders from the Iraqiya bloc failed to provide the prime minister with the name of a suitable candidate. The adviser, Ali al-Musawi, said the appointment had nothing to do with Monday’s attacks.

As part of an agreement last December, Mr. Maliki said that in exchange for Iraqiya joining his government, he would allow the bloc to appoint the minister of defense and allow Ayad Allawi, the bloc’s leader, to run a national strategic policy council.

Ahmed Sliman, a member of Iraqiya bloc, said that his party had put forward many names but that Mr. Maliki had ignored them.

“They have been delaying this for a long time so they could appoint a weak minister so they can control him,” Mr. Sliman said, referring to Mr. Dulaimi, who was minister of defense under a previous Shiite-led government.

Coup feared
Ibrahim Al-Sumaidi, a political analyst in Baghdad, said Mr. Maliki’s advisers had warned against allowing Iraqiya to control the defense ministry out of fear that the bloc would stage a coup.

“Maliki has to move beyond this idea and give the minister of defense to Iraqiya in response to the results of the election and the agreement he made,” Mr. Sumaidi said.

As Mr. Maliki struggles with the internal sectarian dynamics, his government is weighing whether to ask the United States if it will leave any troops in Iraq after the end of the year. It remained unclear how the events might affect the scheduled departure of the roughly 48,000 American troops by Dec. 31.

“Our combat mission in Iraq ends at the end of this year,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Our support and training mission, if there is to be such a one, is what the subject of this discussion would be.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Omar Al-Jawoshy, Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi from Baghdad.

This article, "," first appeared in The New York Times.