x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dozens perish in suicide bombings targeting Iraqi police

Attacks fuel concerns about Iraq's ability to secure Baghdad after the scheduled withdrawal of US forces by the end of the year.

BAGHDAD // Suicide attackers, gunmen and car bombs killed at least 28 people in Baghdad yesterday in a coordinated assault that a military official said might have targeted officers involved in negotiating a deal with the US over extending its troop presence in the country.

A car loaded with explosives was driven into a police station in the Alwiya neighbourhood of the capital’s Karrada district, killing as many as 14 people, and wounding 31.

A second car bomber hit a police building in Hurriya, killing eight and wounding 27 others, according to hospital officials. Exact numbers of casualties from the attacks remained unclear.

There were at least three more explosions, one near the heavily defended interior ministry, as well as an assassination attempt against an army brigade commander that left him seriously wounded, and a gun battle at a police checkpoint.

Many of the dead were security officers, including rank-and-file police, with numerous bystanders also caught up in the bloodshed.

A defence ministry official said early reports indicated officers who dealt with security-force training were killed.

“These officers were involved in coordinating the deal with the Americans about keeping troops in the country for training, and about securing the long-term future of the Iraqi army, in terms of weapons procurement and cooperation with international forces,” the defence official said. “Some of those who were hit were trying to improve the Iraqi security forces to allow them to take over the security file in as short a time as possible,” he added. “There have been threats against their lives for a long time.”

US forces are scheduled to leave by the end of the year, but negotiations are continuing that would see troops stay on in a training and advisory capacity.

The bombings, the second set of coordinated attacks in the capital in less than a week, underlined that significant holes still remain in Iraq’s security as it continues to face insurgent groups more than eight years after the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

“Today was a well organised terrorist attack that confirmed foreign [insurgent] factors are still playing a role in Iraq and that Iraqi security forces are still weak and not professional enough to stop such attacks,” said Hassan Jihad, an MP with the ruling National

Alliance and a member of the parliamentary security and defence committee.

He also said the bombings showed a “serious problem” with insurgents having infiltrated the intelligence and security force system.“It’s a worry that the security forces are still not able to stop this,” he said.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al Qaeda-inspired militants continue to operate in Iraq, as do Shiite militia. Both sets of insurgents have been linked to support networks in neighbouring countries, including Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia by Iraqi and US military officials.

Aliya Sayyef, an MP with the White Iraqiyya faction, said the attacks were designed to help sell the idea of a continuing US military presence to a reluctant public, by spreading fear that domestic forces were inadequate.

“There is a foreign agenda trying to push the Iraqi government at the last minute to keep some American trainers,” she said. Ms Sayyef  also predicted that, with the troop pull-out date fast approaching, attacks would continue.