Banned in Baghdad: the cars that are insurgents’ weapon of choice

Adviser to Iraqi PM warns that country is heading for partition after deadly month
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Iraq is heading for civil war followed by a break up of the country if the current wave of violence continues, says a senior Iraqi politician.

The warning came as a desperate effort to stem the bombings that killed over 500 Iraqis in May saw officials introduce a ban in Baghdad on certain types of vehicle most likely to be used by bombers.

“If we go on like this we will have civil war and then partition,” said Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former Iraqi National Security Adviser who remains a close adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in an interview with The Independent.

“I’ve never seen so many people talking about partition, but this is not a peaceable solution,” he said, adding that he believes that a partition of Iraq, which is divided between Shia and Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, would be as bloody as the division between Pakistan and India.

His fear of Iraq disintegrating is echoed by the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, who said on Thursday that “systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment if all Iraqi leaders do not engage immediately to pull the country out of this mayhem”.

The surge in violence is taking place all over the country. In contrast to the sectarian civil war of 2006-7, when bombings were mostly carried out by al-Qa’ida on Shia targets, Sunni civilians are now being hit by bombs.  An explosion in a Sunni mosque in west Baghdad yesterday killed seven people. Some 30 Sunni mosques have been bombed and 100 worshippers killed in recent weeks.

Iraqi security forces say they foiled an al-Qa’ida plot to pack explosives into oil tankers entering Baghdad from Basra to detonate in an oil facility in the capital. The vehicle ban, which started yesterday, is on older cars with temporary black licence plates, which are often used by bombers because they are difficult to trace.

Dr Rubaie, long at the centre of Iraqi security, says that the two most effective ways to control the wave of violence would be a policy of national reconciliation and the transfer of responsibility for preventing terror attacks from the Iraqi military to the intelligence services. He said: “We need to improve our human, signal, internet and cyber intelligence.”

Iraqis complain that, despite hundreds of checkpoints, the bombers always seem to get through. Senior intelligence officials say that decisions are taken on a day-to-day basis and there is no strategy. Soldiers manning check points may also be disinclined to stop suspected suicide bombers and get killed in the process.

Dr Rubaie said that the government needed “to go the extra mile” to conciliate the Sunni minority demanding justice, equality and jobs. The Sunni started peaceful protests five months ago, but violence surged after government forces broke up a protest at Hawijah near Kirkuk on 23 April, killing some 50 people.

The attacks on Sunni mosques are an ominous development since they imply that Shia militiamen, who played a central role in the sectarian bloodbath of 2006-7, are once more active. In Sunni areas al-Qa’ida members who used to keep their identity secret now flaunt their presence. 

Baghdad has been a largely Shia city since the sectarian cleansing at the height of the civil war. Few mixed areas are left, and the Sunni have been pushed into enclaves, mostly in the west of the city. Sunni in these areas are feeling acutely vulnerable to a renewed drive against them as the tit-for-tat bombings deepen  sectarian hatred.