23 Nov

Analysis: Voting With Bombs

Terrorism in Iraq has become the continuation of politics by other means.

bomb1Joao Silva for The New York TimesAn Iraqi rescue worker sat near vehicles destroyed by a bomb outside Baghdad’s provincial council building in October.
Baghdad Bureau

BAGHDAD — Terrorism in Iraq has become the continuation of politics by other means. That came into sharp relief with last month’s bombing of three government buildings here by two suicide truck bombers. It was probably no accident that they chose to strike as Iraq’s leaders bogged down on attempts to draft an election law.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been campaigning on having largely restored security and normality to the country. It has in many ways been a successful campaign; it helped him sweep to an unexpected victory in provincial elections, and emboldened him to separate from the sectarian alliance of Shiites that dominated the last national elections, and run his own slate in January’s national elections.

Mr. Maliki has many opponents in the political establishment, but his most potent opponents are the extremists who have proven able to carry out spectacular attacks that undermine his core argument — that things are better.

When they struck on Aug. 19 with two suicide truck bombs that destroyed the foreign and finance ministries, killing 155 people, the attacks could be dismissed as an anomaly, and they were. When they struck again on Oct. 25, however, with two suicide bombers who destroyed three government buildings and killed 122 people, it was clearly the enemy’s version of a campaign debate — albeit one-sided, and viciously to the point.

“If there is another attack, this will be the end of Mr. Maliki completely,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst at the Gulf Research Institute in Dubai. “This is a terrorist attack of a new nature, against political targets.”

Many, including the United States military, expect another such attack between now and the vote, scheduled for Jan. 18 — though at the moment that date is very much in doubt.

bomb3Joao Silva for The New York Times An Iraqi man collapsed in tears outside the provincial council building.

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