The Middle East Channel

Deadly bombings hit Iraq days ahead of provincial elections

A series of seemingly coordinated attacks across Iraq early Monday have killed an estimated 32 people and wounded 200 others, just days in advance of provincial elections. Most of the attacks were car bombings that occurred during the morning rush hour and were unusually broad in scope, hitting several cities from the north to the ...

AFP/Getty Images/ALI AL-SAADI
AFP/Getty Images/ALI AL-SAADI

A series of seemingly coordinated attacks across Iraq early Monday have killed an estimated 32 people and wounded 200 others, just days in advance of provincial elections. Most of the attacks were car bombings that occurred during the morning rush hour and were unusually broad in scope, hitting several cities from the north to the south including Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Khurmato, Nasariya, Samarra, and Hilla. The most deadly of the attacks were in Baghdad — they targeted both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, and included a car bombing at a bus stop and two explosions at a checkpoint outside Baghdad’s international airport. There was also a wave of attacks on Sunday which killed 10 people, including a Sunni candidate running in the upcoming elections. Violence has escalated ahead of elections which are scheduled for Saturday. The elections will be the first voting since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December 2011. There is considerable skepticism over the credibility of the elections, however, as 14 candidates have been killed, and only 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces will be participating.

Syria

Syrian government forces reportedly broke through an opposition blockade held for six months in the northern Idlib province on Sunday. The report from the pro-government al-Baath newspaper said that Syrian troops broke out from the Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military bases outside the town of Maarat al-Nuaman and are fighting to recapture the strategic highway connecting Aleppo with Damascus. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 25 people, including 12 children, were killed in government airstrikes on Sunday. Activists reported at least nine children were killed in Qaboun, an opposition held suburb of Damascus. Additionally, 16 people, including a woman and three children, were killed in an airstrike near the rebel held area of the village of Haddad, in the Kurdish majority Hasaka province. Fighting reportedly crossed the Syrian border Sunday. Artillery fire killed two people and wounded four others in northeastern Lebanon.

Headlines

  • Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will appear in court today as he looks for a decision on his application for release from prison, a day after the presiding judge withdrew from his retrial.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has resigned over internal struggles, perhaps complicating renewed U.S. peace efforts.
  • Kuwaiti former member of parliament and opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak has been jailed for five years for allegedly insulting the emir. The ruling is expected to stoke political tensions.
  • Bahrain’s opposition February 14 movement has claimed responsibility for an explosion late Sunday night in the capital Manama about a week ahead of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. 

Arguments and Analysis

Gitmo Is Killing Me (Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel, The New York Times)

"ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago – no one seriously thinks I am a threat – but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a "guard" for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either."

What does the Gulf think about the Arab Awakening? (Fatima Ayub, European Council on Foreign Relations)

"The strategic importance of the Gulf region makes it vital for any understanding of the wider issues of the Middle East and North Africa region, from the Arab Awakening, to Syria, to Israel and Palestine. But while their money, location and energy resources make the Gulf States increasingly influential, their political life remains opaque and inaccessible to outsiders.

ECFR’s new Gulf Analysis project seeks to shed light on how and where the Gulf States are using this influence.The first edition, edited by Fatima Ayub, focuses on how they view the Arab Awakening, explained in four essays by insiders from the region.

Saudi Arabia has been caught off guard by the Awakening at a time when social media technology has given citizens new spaces for debate. Its response at home has been to make big welfare hand-outs, marginalise dissent and cast domestic protests as Shia provocation. Retrenching its foreign policy along sectarian lines in conflicts in Syria and Bahrain, it struggles to reorient its foreign policy in a region where the Muslim Brotherhood is ascendant.

With its massive wealth, regional ambitions and a foreign policy driven solely by the visions of its ruler, Qatarhas experienced no stirrings of domestic political unrest. Despite building a profile as a global heavyweight, serious domestic challenges lie ahead given its rapidly expanding expatriate population and growing regional objections, to how it cultivates its soft power as big projects like Al-Jazeera see their star fading.

Kuwait, once the most politically open Gulf monarchy, has become less liberal and more divided in the wake of popular discontent. Despite tens of thousands of Kuwaitis taking to the streets to protest, the government, instead of addressing grievances around corruption and civil rights, has widened a political crackdown.

Caught on a fault-line between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Bahrain has responded to demands for greater p
olitical inclusion from the Shia majority by mobilising a "loyal" Sunni opposition and maintaining a strategy of political repression. However, the government’s strategy has entrenched political polarisation and inadvertently made common cause between groups with the same grievances."

 –By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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