Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 10:57 UK

'Illusion' of security in Iraq

By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Baghdad

More than 100 people died in bombings across Iraq over the past three days. The attacks, which hit Baghdad and areas outside Mosul in the north on Friday and on Monday, are the biggest and the most serious since the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities at the end of June.

Bombing site in Baghdad - 11 August 2009
Iraqis complain that widespread corruption prevents security services from protecting ordinary people

Along with other, smaller incidents - which often fail to make international headlines - a total of 157 people were killed in Iraq in the first 10 days of August - more than half of all those killed in July.

Since January, casualty figures in Iraq have fluctuated, and assessing the security situation according to these changing numbers can be misleading. Looking at the nature of the attacks might provide a better insight.

As the US generals prepared for the June withdrawal of their troops from Iraqi cities, US military officials argued that the attacks had become much less organised and sophisticated.

However, less than two months after the pull-out, this seems to be changing.

The latest bombings resemble the well co-ordinated, well planned strikes of the earlier years of heightened violence.

'Targeting the ordinary'

"These attacks have clear al-Qaeda fingerprints all over them. They were well co-ordinated and the explosives used were hi-tech," said Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf, spokesperson for Iraq's ministry of the interior following the Monday bombing.

"These explosives are not available on the domestic market, which gives us reason to believe outside powers were involved."

Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki (centre)
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has warned of violence ahead of January polls

The most recent attacks hit, almost simultaneously, a Shia village near Mosul in the north, and two construction sites in ethnically mixed neighbourhoods in Baghdad.

In the north, the explosives were hidden in two big lorries parked in an alley, and they went off just before dawn while most people were still asleep.

The villagers woke up to find their houses in ruins, their neighbours and relatives dead and injured, some buried in the rubble.

In Baghdad, the bombs went off at almost the same time near two construction sites and most of those killed were day labourers.

Right now, corruption is a bigger threat for us then insurgency, because it is preventing all of our government institutions - and especially our security services - from doing their job
MP Alia Nusaif Jasim

"I saw the explosions as I was going to work," said Fathya, a woman in her 30s who lives near one of the sites.

"The worst thing is that they are once again targeting us, the ordinary people."

The government says the attacks serve two inter-related purposes: to attempt to reignite sectarian violence that reigned in Iraq in 2006-2007 and to undermine the security gains of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government ahead of parliamentary elections in January.

"The enemy is still lurking, still trying to undermine the success that we have made," Mr Maliki said as he addressed his commanders in Baghdad just hours after the bombs went off on Monday.

While the prime minister blames the Sunni insurgency for the attacks, opponents of his predominantly Shia government say it is time to focus on the enemy within.

They accuse Mr Maliki of alienating Iraq's Sunni population and allowing corruption to infect all parts of the government, especially the security services.

According to Iraq's own government anti-corruption agency, the ministries of defence and the interior are among the most corrupt in the country.

Alia Nusaif Jasim, an MP and member of parliamentary anti-corruption committee, alleges that millions of dollars of US defence aid never make it to the state coffers.

"Right now, corruption is a bigger threat for us than insurgency, because it is preventing all of our government institutions - and especially our security services - from doing their job," Ms Jasim said.

Illusion of security

The ministry of defence denies all corruption accusations, but in Baghdad stories of bribery in the army abound.

"I have to give a bribe to join the army, I have to bribe at checkpoints, I have to bribe the commander if I am in the army - everywhere I turn I have to bribe," said Ali, a resident of Baghdad.

This perception strips the army of its moral authority, and makes it more difficult for people to believe it is capable of protecting them - especially now that US troops no longer patrol urban areas of Iraq.

The withdrawal of the US troops, which was welcomed by most Iraqis, put the Iraqi government fully in charge of the security situation.

The authorities say violence is likely to continue in the run-up to the election, but they also insist they are firmly in control.

In fact, the government is so confident of its ability to keep Baghdad safe, it has ordered all protective blast walls in the capital to come down within the next month.

Fathya, in Baghdad, thinks the decision shows that the authorities are pre-occupied with creating an illusion of safety.

"The attacks are still happening, it is too soon to bring the walls down. I'd rather have the Americans here, because our government is not ready to protect us."

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