Wednesday, August 19, 2009

US War Update: Hundreds Killed and Wounded in Bomb Attacks in Baghdad; Afghan Resistance Forces Storm Bank in Kabul

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
22:04 Mecca time, 19:04 GMT

Hundreds killed and hurt in Baghdad

Police said that explosions at the foreign and finance ministries were caused by lorry bombs

At least 95 people have been killed and 500 injured in six blasts near the government and diplomatic "Green Zone" in the centre of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the police said.

Witnesses said that the two main attacks on Wednesday appeared to target the foreign ministry and the finance ministry.

Police sources told Al Jazeera that the explosions, which took place within minutes of each other, were caused by lorries loaded with explosives which had been parked close to the buildings.

The blast outside the foreign ministry left a huge crater and severely damaged the building.

Major-General Qassim Atta, the spokesman for the Iraqi army's Baghdad operations, said: "A truck bomb went off near the Salhiyeh intersection and it caused casualties and a number of civilian cars were destroyed.

"We accuse the Baathist alliance of executing these terrorist operations," he said in an apparent reference to the political party of Saddam Hussein, the executed former president.

Television footage showed that the force of the explosions had blown out some of the windows of Iraq's parliamentary building.

Two mortars also landed inside the heavily protected "Green Zone", while a third landed outside.

The area, the site of government ministries and foreign embassies, has frequently been targeted with rocket and mortar fire.

'Unacceptable' violence

Ahmed Rushdi, a journalist in Baghdad, told Al Jazeera: "These areas are supposed [to be] very secure ... it is not only checkpoints, you are always placing intelligence around this area to make it more secure.


-The first blast strikes near the finance ministry in northern Baghdad
-Another huge explosion near the foreign ministry and near the Green Zone
A barrage of mortars strike the central Karada district
-Explosions hit a market in the western neighbourhood of Bayaa. A lorry full of explosives is defused near the cardiac hospital in Salhiya
-Two mortar bombs land in the UN compound in the Green Zone. A third explodes outside

All attacks were approximately three minutes apart.

"How are you going to say to people that Baghdad is now secure if you have so many explosions in this area?"

The attacks came six years to the day after a lorry bomb exploded outside the UN offices at the Canal Hotel killing 22 people.

Saad Muttalibi, an adviser to Iraq's ministry of national dialogue and reconciliation, said: "This is the continutation of the evil plans of people who cannot see a stable, free Iraq and people with the intention of keeping American forces in Iraq after the agreement that was signed for the Americans to leave.

"I think that this escalation of violence in Iraq is totally unacceptable as it is effecting the ordinary citizens," he told Al Jazeera.

Wednesday's attacks made it the bloodiest day in the Iraqi capital since June 24 when 62 people were killed after a bomb on a motorcycle rickshaw exploded in the predominantly Shia Muslim neighbourhood of Sadr City.

Despite a reduction in violence in recent months, attacks on security forces and civilians remain common in Baghdad and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

The number of violent deaths fell by a third last month to 275 from 437 in June, following the pullout of US combat forces from urban areas at the end of the month.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
22:04 Mecca time, 19:04 GMT

Analysis: The Baghdad attacks

The timings of the attacks in Baghdad indicate a co-ordinated assault

An all-out attack on the Iraqi government came in the form of a series of powerful assaults that hit central Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The attacks raise a number of questions, among them who had the capacity to carry out the co-ordinated attacks and was the US right to pull out of Iraq's cities when it did?

As Baghdad reels from its bloodiest day this year, experts and journalists consider who might have been behind the attacks and what their motives might have been.

Mosab Jasim, Al Jazeera English producer in Baghdad

Jasim: It would be really difficult to enter the Green Zone with a truck filled with explosives.

In my experience, getting inside the Green Zone to cover media activity is not easy.

First of all, you have to get at least two or three badges that allow you inside. Then, you have to cross through at least two or three security checkpoints, which are at least 600m outside of the Green Zone. At these checkpoints, you get searched, and after you pass through them, you are allowed on to the street that leads to the Green Zone and, from there, there is a final checkpoint and that's when you've finally arrived.

So it would be really difficult to bring in a truck filled with explosives unless it was co-ordinated from inside the Green Zone. Obtaining a badge means you've gone through all the clearance procedures. The bombers who were able to put the truck inside the area of the Green Zone had gone through all the necessary security measures and once they were cleared, they also received the badges which gave them access into the area.

I spoke to our police source in Baghdad and he was telling me that his sources said an attack would occur every three minutes from each other, exactly timed. He said the attacks had nothing to do with sectarian violence, but that they were something very well organised and co-ordinated.

Aqil al-Saffar, former deputy minister of national security in Iraq

Life was normal and it is still normal in Iraq after these blasts. I say this on so many occasions and now the government is trying to do their best to implement better security and build-up our security forces, but the foreign countries meddling with our regime, some of them Arab, are trying to interfere with our security situation and stop us from improving the situation here.

We are still in the process of building our security forces and I would say we have reached a good percentage of building our security but, maybe, it will take us months, or towards the end of this year until we have a safer Iraq. Up until now, I am satisfied, and people here are quite satisfied, with the way things are moving along.

Even in the United States or in the United Kingdom, they are working on building up their security. You can remember the tragedy of the World Trade Center or the tragedy in London - even in those Western countries, they are building their security but here, there are still some cases where the terrorists and terrorism still thrives.

In Iraq and such countries, it is quite natural for accidents like this to happen, especially when countries like Saudi Arabia are trying to put a stick in the wheels of our security efforts.

Anas al-Tikriti, political analyst specialising in Iraq

Tikriti: These attacks have nothing to do with the US troops pulling out from Iraqi cities

The reality in Iraq is that the list of potential perpetrators is quite lengthy and there are various factions that have the motives and the capabilities to carry out such an attack.

There is something new about this particular attack, it does come after a relative lull. Only two months ago, Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government and even the Americans were celebrating the relative calm that engulfed Iraq.

We heard reports about thousands of families returning home to the safety and sanctity of Iraq so I think this, politically and metaphorically, blows up that particular scenario.

What is also important is how this is an attack against the government. It's an attack against the political process. Let us not forget, Iraq now is in full campaigning mode, we're seeing the building of new alliances in preparation for the elections which is coming up in the next four or five months.

And this attack, I believe, comes as the first, in possibly a wave of attacks, God forbid, that will try to determine the outcome of these alliances, but generally speaking- because it's such a highly sophisticated and highly co-ordinated and quite effective attack, it has to be a party that has the access, the capability and the know-how on how, where and when to plant these bombs.

The Americans and those who are in support of the Americans staying in Iraq would like us to think the attacks have something to do with the US troop pullout, but let us not forget that we are well into the sixth year of the Americans occupying Iraq and such blasts were nothing to be totally taken aback by only last year or the year before under the Americans and with them being fully present.

So I don't buy into the argument that it's because of the Americans withdrawing from large Iraqi cities and towns that we've seen an escalation in violence, we've seen such violence when they were there.

Maybe the party that actually carried out this attack wanted to try to draw back the Americans in order to provide that blanket of safety for the upcoming Iraqi elections, but I don't buy into this.

Ahmed Rushdi, Iraqi journalist in Baghdad

The problem with this government is that its only bonus is the security situation, which means a lot worse goes on in Iraq like corruption, insufficient services.

All these issues show the failure of the government but what happened today sends a very clear message regarding the failure of the security situation in Iraq.

No one knows who was behind these attacks, some say they are inside the ruling coalition and they are opponents of al-Maliki [the Iraqi president], saying that the people who led these attacks did so to prove how poor security is in Iraq.

Al-Maliki simply has too many opponents and the Iraqi people are the ones who must suffer from this the most.

Source: Al Jazeera

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
20:23 Mecca time, 17:23 GMT

Deaths in attack on Afghan capital

Three of the armed men who stormed the bank in Kabul were killed in the clash, police say

At least three people have been killed during a gun battle after a number of armed men raided a bank in the Afghan capital, Kabul, a day before the country's national elections.

Afghan authorities initially said the incident on Wednesday was an attempted robbery, but the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Explosions and gunfire could be heard as police forced their way into the bank to tackle the attackers, witnesses said.

Police said that the dead were members of the group that carried out the raid. Three police officers were injured, they said.

Few people were on the streets around the bank because government ministries and businesses were closed on Wednesday as Afghanistan observed independence day.

Four-hour siege

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said the siege went on for more than four hours before police announced the fighting was over.

"We're told that the gunmen had planted rigged explosives around the building and that's where the policemen were wounded," he said.

"The Taliban says it is their operation. A Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera there [were] five attackers equipped with suicide vests."

Bays said that security around the area remained tight and officials were attempting to keep reporters away from the scene.

"They are trying to prevent journalists here from filming in a way that I've never seen before in Afghanistan."

The Afghan government has called for an international media blackout on reporting violence on the day of the election, amid fears that security concerns could keep voters at home.

The government's appeal to the media was contained in a foreign ministry statement.

"All domestic and international media agencies are requested to refrain from broadcasting any incident of violence during the election process," it said.

The statement said the move was necessary to "ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people".

Day of violence

The US military said three American troops had been killed in two incidents in southern Afghanistan.

The deaths bring to six the number of US deaths announced by the military on Wednesday. That pushes to at least 32 the number of dead American troops in August.

Al Jazeera's Nick Clark, reporting from Kabul, said there was " a real sense of unease in the capital tonight ahead of Thursday's election.

"We are constantly being fed with information about various violent incidents around the country. There is heavy fighting around Kunduz city, which is in the north of Afghanistan ...between Taliban and government forces.

"Meanwhile this morning, we've heard very recently, that the Taliban kidnapped seven police officers from Kunduz province. The police have confirmed that five of them have been killed, and two remain kidnapped.

"Elsewhere in Bajis province, in the north, a truck carrying civilians hit a roadside bomb, thirteen died.

"In the province of Kunar and Nurestan, the Taliban reportedly burnt down a polling station. In Ghazni last night, in central Afghanistan, an American helicopter fired at a police check point and killed four policemen and injured two, so two policemen are still missing.

"All this going on right now, it is continually unfolding situation, just hours ahead of the polls opening tomorrow. Here in Kabul this morning, gun shots were heard across the city."

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, said: "We do not know yet whether these are isolated events taking place in Northern Afghanistan or more of a co-operated attempt by the Taliban ... to upset the election as the clock starts ticking down towards the voting day."

Suicide blast

Wednesday's violence followed a series of attacks on Tuesday, including a suicide car bombing east of the capital along the Jalalabad-Kabul road, which targeted members of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

Eight people were killed in the attack, including a Nato soldier and two UN workers, and 52 wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast.

The Nato-led military force in Afghanistan has vowed to make every effort to protect voters, saying that more than 100,000 international troops will refrain from offensive operations on election day.

But the Taliban have demanded that Afghans boycott the polls, threatening to cut off the fingers of those who vote and saying they will attack polling stations.

A statement from the Taliban on Wednesday said Taliban fighters were closing roads across the country to disrupt the poll, the Reuters news agency reported.

"From today onwards until the end of tomorrow, all main and secondary roads will be blocked for traffic and the mujahidin will bear no responsibility for whoever gets hurt," the statement said.

'Lot of warnings'

Maiwand Karbuk, a 29-year-old resident of Kabul, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that he will not be going out to vote on election day.

"[The Taliban] have given a lot of warnings to the people. No one will take that risk to go to polling stations and risk their lives," he said.

But he said he is also staying away from the polls because he does not believe the elections will help Afghanistan.

"I don't think these elections are transparent. In my opinion, the person who is in favour of Western countries will ultimately win, whether there are elections or not."

Opinion polls are showing a lead for Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, with 45 per cent of the ballot, but not an outright majority.

Without an outright majority, Karzai would be forced into a runoff with his closest challenger, predicted to be Abdullah Abdullah, his former foreign minister.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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