Page last updated at 22:40 GMT, Sunday, 25 October 2009

Back to the bad old days for Iraq?

An Iraqi grieves outside the Provincial Council building in Baghdad (25 October 2009)
The attacks came in quick succession as people headed to work

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Baghdad

The double suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday was the deadliest attack in Iraq for over two years. It claimed more than 130 lives, and wounded hundreds more.

But the attack was by no means unique, or entirely unexpected.

In form, it followed a pattern that has by now become grimly familiar in Iraq: two explosions, the second following shortly after the first, catching the security and emergency services as they rush in to help.

Nouri Maliki (right) visits the site of the bombings in Baghdad (25 October 2009)
It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki

The use of vehicles, packed with explosives is also nothing new to Iraq.

Government ministries were the target of Sunday's attacks, just as they were on 19 August, when around 100 people were killed.

The Iraqi government blamed that bombing on Syria, saying Damascus was providing a safe-haven for foreign fighters and insurgents planning and executing attacks inside Iraq.

The Syrian government has denied the charge, but in Baghdad, prominent members of the government are already linking the two incidents.

The fear is that such attacks will become more frequent as militant groups attempt to destabilise Iraq in the run-up to the parliamentary election scheduled for mid-January.

As he clambered over the rubble at the bombsite, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki blamed Sunday's explosions on the "black hand" of al-Qaeda and Baathists loyal to the late former president, Saddam Hussein.

Aug 2007: More than 500 killed in attacks on villages near Sinjar
Jul 2007: 150 killed in truck bombing in Tuz Khurmato
Apr 2007: 191 killed in car bombings in Baghdad
Mar 2007: 152 killed in truck bombing in Tal Afar
Feb 2007: 135 killed in truck bombing in Baghdad
Nov 2006: 202 killed in multiple blasts in Baghdad
Mar 2004: 171 killed in bombings in Baghdad and Karbala

In Washington, Barack Obama said he was outraged by the bombings, which he said were an attempt to derail the progress made in Iraq.

But the blasts present a problem for the US president.

The US military presence in Iraq is still around 120,000-strong.

Mr Obama wants all combat troops out of the country by the end of August, in preparation for a full military withdrawal by 2012. But if the security situation deteriorates, he may have to revise that timetable.

Both Iraqis and the Americans will now be asking searching questions about Iraqi's security forces: are they competent and well-trained enough to secure the country? And are they immune from infiltration by insurgents?

After Sunday's attacks there will be some who will argue that the answer to both these questions is "no".

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