Baghdad blasts point to Iraq’s many woes
BAGHDAD - Despite beefed-up security and recent victories over the Islamic State (ISIS), a deadly bombing campaign continued in Baghdad, blamed on corruption, political struggle and heightened sectarian tensions.
For 13 years, Iraqis complained of widespread corruption among security forces in charge of protecting the capital. Soldiers and police at checkpoints barely inspect motorists and pedestrians and can often be seen browsing social media on their handsets or taking group photos of themselves.
Checkpoints are often left to one person on guard and the only thing he would do is ask motorists if they have weapons or bombs in their vehicles. The expected answer would be “No” and the car was allowed to move through without further checks.
“The only concern of those people in charge of protecting us is to get the salary at the end of the month with the least effort to earn it,” said Baghdad resident Mohammed Talib.
Talib said security forces see their duty at checkpoints as an opportunity to “extort ordinary people and ask bribes of them”.
Iraqi lawmaker Mohammed al- Karbouli said dozens of lax security checkpoints around the capital have been sources of trouble for Baghdadis who have long waits in their vehicles before they can pass. Yet, few bombs were caught at the checkpoints, he pointed out.
“These checkpoints are a waste of time and resources because the people manning them have no experience and the necessary equipment,” he said.
“The terrorists can easily choose the time and the place of their next bombing,” said Karbouli, who is a member of the parliamentary Security and Defence Committee.
After the victories by Iraqi forces over ISIS in the western Anbar province, Iraqi officials boasted that attacks on Baghdad would end, claiming that the car bombs were coming from the nearby, predominantly Sunni, province.
However, lethal attacks have continued.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi inspected several checkpoints in Baghdad in July and affirmed the necessity of thorough and extensive searches on cars without causing delays for people.
After the July attack in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood that left more than 300 people dead, a parliamentary committee said the minibus used in the bombing came from Diyala province, travelling 50km to the capital. The vehicle, packed with 250 kilograms of explosives, passed at least half a dozen checkpoints.
The committee’s report said that more than 180 attacks had been carried out in Baghdad so far in 2016.
To absorb the public anger following the Karrada attack — the deadliest single assault in 13 years — Abadi ordered the withdrawal of British-made ADE651 bomb detectors, purchased at high prices but inefficient in detecting bombs.
The withdrawal of ADE651s, handheld devices developed to locate lost golf balls, followed years of insistence by Interior Ministry officials that they were effective in detecting explosives. The Iraqi government spent more than $60 million, despite warnings by US and British officials that the devices were useless.
“All security forces must take away the handheld detectors from checkpoints and the Ministry of the Interior must reopen an investigation for corruption in the contracts for these devices and chase all entities which participated in them,” Abadi insisted recently.
Baghdad-based political analyst Said al-Obeidi said that bomb-detector issue is the clearest evidence of state corruption that has led and will lead to the killing of innocent people.
“This instrument shows that corruption kills,” he said. “Senior Interior Ministry officials insisted on using the bomb detectors to avoid any legal consequences. Despite Abadi’s orders, some checkpoints in Baghdad are still using them. So, more people will die.”
In 2012, the head of the Interior Ministry’s bomb squad department was sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. Many Iraqis say he was a scapegoat to protect more senior officials.
Another reason for the continuing violence in Baghdad is the struggle among security apparatuses in charge of the capital, Karbouli said.
“Each security apparatus is controlled by a powerful political or religious group. This fact has led to a state of competition and struggle among security authorities instead of uniting efforts to confront terrorists’ plans,” he added.
Before submitting his resignation after the Karrada attack, Iraqi Interior Minister Salim al-Ghabban complained that too many security and intelligence agencies were involved in protecting Baghdad.
Ghabban had demanded that his ministry be given complete control over security in Baghdad. Abadi resisted, however, keeping the military in charge. Apparently, other Shia parties were afraid that Ghabban’s party might take full control of the capital.
“New plans and technology are badly needed to stop the attacks in Baghdad. Abadi should take firm decisions to replace corrupt security commanders who are loyal to their parties and personal interests. Otherwise, the security gaps will continue. A lot of work should be done,” Karbouli said.