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Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 16:01 UK

Iraq attacks threaten stability claims

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst

Plumes of smoke fill the sky after car bombs shook Baghdad on Wednesday
The violence seems aimed at showing the government is losing control

There is clearly a sense that violence in Iraq has been on the way up since the American troops pulled out of urban centres at the end of June.

But it is still not as high as it used to be three years ago, when the country appeared to be on the brink of an all-out sectarian war between the majority Shia and Sunni insurgents.

However, the frequency of the recent attacks - and the fact that the latest blasts hit the heart of government in central Baghdad, will raise questions about the competence of the Iraqi security services as well as about the motives.

Whether it is primarily sectarian or not, the apparent aim of the violence has almost always been to destabilise Iraq and show the government losing control.

This view appears to be even more plausible now as Iraqi politicians have begun preparing for forthcoming parliamentary elections due early next year.

Should continued violence force a change to those plans, this would be a serious blow to President Obama, who has made orderly military disengagement from Iraq one of his top foreign policy priorities

Increased violence could in theory make it difficult for parties in the current governing coalition to claim that they have made Iraq safe again.

This has led some analysts to conclude that those behind the recent attacks are not only the usual suspects - al-Qaeda or former Baathists - but also political players who want scupper Prime Minister Nuri Maliki's hopes for another electoral victory.

If the current level of violence persists or, worse still, escalates, and American troops are called upon to intervene, this could seriously undermine claims that Iraq was on the right track to genuine independence.

Aside from the human cost of the violence, the main losers would be Mr Maliki and his coalition partners from the Shia majority, who have been the main beneficiaries of the new political order in Iraq.

Continued or increased violence could also easily increase the risk of wider regional troubles, with Iraq's neighbours backing one group against its rivals to ensure an outcome favourable to their national interests.

Iraq and Washington had agreed that all American troops will have withdrawn by the end of 2011.

Should continued violence force a change to those plans, this would be a serious blow to US President Barack Obama, who has made orderly military disengagement from Iraq one of his top foreign policy priorities.



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