The spate of murderous attacks in cities across the whole of Iraq over the last 10 days has taken the August 2010 death toll to 535, with nearly 400 wounded. This exceeds the July total of 500 deaths; the authorities attribute the bombings to Sunni-militant followers of al-Qaeda. Only one attacker was stopped in advance: in Mosul, Iraqi soldiers spotted and killed a suicide bomber before he could blow his car up. Above all, the intensified attacks show how little control the United States and the Iraqi authorities have. For example, in Baghdad on August 17, a single attacker had no problem joining about 1,000 men lined up at an Iraqi army recruitment centre outside the former defence ministry buildings in the Bab al-Muazam district. He then detonated the explosives he was carrying, killing more than 60 and injuring over 125. How the attacker sneaked in, evading the electronic screening and body searches that were in place, remains a mystery. A particularly poignant aspect is that the toll might have been lower had the Iraqi economy been in better condition. It was the prospect of stable employment that attracted substantial crowds to the area, and recruitment was to end that day. A ghoulish detail: people were so desperate for work that some rejoined the queue after having their wounds treated.

The attacks make nonsense of the U.S. claim that the ‘surge' commanded by General David Petraeus in 2007 succeeded in reducing the threat of violence in Iraq. The key problems are political and they exacerbate the violence. Five months after the general election, the main parties have not agreed on the composition of a government. Their failure has enabled insurgent factions to revive sectarian antagonisms between the main Shia groups, led by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, and the largely Sunni alliance under Ayad Allawi. The latter won the election but fell far short of an absolute majority. The latest round of talks, in fact, collapsed the day before the August 17 suicide bombing. Some senior Iraqi politicians are criticising themselves for their inability to stop behaving as if they were still opposition figures in exile. But intrigue, clandestine deals, and backroom manoeuvres are on overdrive. Party leaders continue to be heavily influenced by neighbours like Turkey and Iran. What is more, insiders speak of the development of a culture of greed and corruption that is tantamount to kleptocracy. With the U.S. purportedly removing the last of its combat troops a fortnight before the August 31 deadline, the soul-searching by Iraqi leaders is too little, too late. Ordinary Iraqis, who face the threat of violence every day, will continue to pay for this unholy mess with their lives.

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