Scores Killed in Iraq’s Worst Day of Violence This Year

In what turned into Iraq’s worst day of violence this year, scores were killed or wounded Monday in two suicide bombings and nine coordinated attacks on security checkpoints across Baghdad and nearby towns, showing how easily the fractious country can teeter back into chaos, particularly amid political uncertainty.

Two months after landmark elections that have yet to be certified, Iraq remains without a governing coalition, set back by squabbling, recount demands, and jockeying by complex cross-sectarian factions.

Gunmen attacked the six checkpoints at dawn today, killing seven soldiers and policemen, Reuters reported. Bombs exploded at three other checkpoints, as well, though none were killed at those locations.

Separately, a suicide bomber killed at least 13 people at a marketplace in al-Suwayra, 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, and yet another suicide bombing Monday and two car explosions killed an additional 40 people outside a textile factory in Babil province, 60 miles south of Baghdad. The Associated Press reports that the day’s death toll was 75, turning this into Iraq’s bloodiest day of the year so far.

Death estimates varied, with Reuters originally reporting at least 30 people dead and 100 wounded. An Interior Ministry source told Reuters that the attacks showed that al Qaeda in Iraq was still a potent force. “This was a message to us that they can attack us in different parts of the city at the same time because they have cells everywhere,” the source said.

Coordinated attacks April 23 in Baghdad near the main office of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and a series of explosions at Shiite mosques during prayers killed more than 50 people and wounded almost 200 in what was until today the worst attacks in Iraq since the elections in early March.

Monday’s attacks came just after reports that the Iraqi government may build a concrete, camera-studded security barrier around Baghdad to reduce violence, reports Al-Jazeera. City access would be controlled by eight checkpoints, and construction could be completed by mid-2011.

Iraq has calmed somewhat since the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. But observers say tensions still threaten to boil over while a power vacuum has made the country more vulnerable to such unrest.

The Associated Press reports that the political uncertainty could fuel a new wave of Shiite-versus-Sunni violence:

The election has pitted incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against fellow Shiite, but secular challenger Ayad Allawi. Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, heavily backed by the country’s Sunni Arab minority, won 91 seats compared to al-Maliki’s 89 seats, but the prime minister has challenged the results at every turn.

The election results have yet to be certified by the country’s highest court – which must happen before any new government can be formed – and a recount demanded by al-Maliki in Baghdad is ongoing.

If the results are overturned or Allawi is not perceived as the winner deserving a legitimate shot at forming a government, that could in turn outrage the Sunnis who supported him. Sunni anger at the Shiite-led government was a key reason behind the insurgency.

See map here of Iraq’s religious and ethnic divisions, from the World Security Network.

In a recent analysis posted on the website of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi said that post-election squabbling was damaging Iraq’s fragile rule of law. Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition has “taken the offensive,” they say, in battling Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition in the arenas of the de-Baathification process and the vote recount, both with legal complications.

The post-election phase in Iraq appears even more difficult than anticipated, postponing indefinitely improvements in Iraq’s long-term security and economic development. …

The situation will worsen as the transitional period stretches from the few weeks foreseen by the constitution to the many months that now appear possible. …

Not only is the battle over elections results far from over, it is intensifying. No matter how it is solved, it is clear now that it will be on the basis of political decisions, not of legal criteria and that the transition period will continue for months.