Baghdad blasts point to Iraq’s many woes

Sunday 07/08/2016
Iraqis gathering at site of suicide car bombing claimed by ISIS

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.