Meanwhile, in Iraq, it's bloody business as usual

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The Independent Online

After a brief respite, Iraq was plunged back into violence this week with a series of bombings that highlighted the weakness of government forces to protect Iraq as US prepares to pack up and take its troops out of the country.

Three suicide bomb attacks in successive days left some 130 people dead and wounded hundreds as terrorists targeted Shi'ite pilgrims and aspiring police officers. Iraqi authorities yesterday announced the arrest of several suspects for an attack outside the holy Shi'ite city of Karbala, that killed more than 50 people.

Police said the attacks carried the hallmarks of al-Qa'ida-linked groups trying to destabilise Iraq ahead of the planned withdrawal of all remaining US troops by the year's end.

Despite billions of dollars of American investment, there is still a shortfall of fully-trained police and army recruits to fill the vacuum and keep Iraq secure. Attacks on police recruitment centres have been a feature of the militants. A senior representative of the revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani yesterday criticised security forces during Friday prayers saying that terrorists appeared to be one step ahead of the government forces.

"To our brothers in the security forces we say: We really appreciate your efforts in protecting pilgrims, but you need to develop your tactics as the terrorists do," said Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie.

The spate of bombings followed a two-month lull in the spectacular strikes that Iraqis had grown used to since the 2003 US-led invasion. At the height of the slaughter in 2006 and 2007, near-daily attacks hit the country as it languished in the chaos and sectarian strife that engulfed Iraq after the ouster of Saddam. The recent respite, however, had been brief – the last major attack in November left 76 people dead in co-ordinated bomb and mortar attacks across 13 Baghdad neighbourhoods – any many Iraqis fear more bloodshed to come as insurgents strive to assert their authority ahead of the December pull-out date.