On August 19, 2009 two large truck bombs struck the Iraqi Finance and Interior Ministries in Baghdad. The Iraqi government was quick to accuse Baathists based in Syria as the main culprits. A taped confession of an alleged member of the bomb cell responsible aired on state-run television accused two Baathists in Damascus as the masterminds. This started a war of words between the two capitals that reached its peak at the end of August when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Turkey’s Foreign Minister that 90% of the foreign terrorists in Iraq came through Syria, that Damascus hand over the two Baathist that were behind the bombings, and demanded that the United Nations form a special tribunal to look into the August bombings. Larsa News recently reported that the Security Council rejected the idea of an international investigation due to lack of evidence.
Questions about the validity of Maliki’s accusations against Syria and the Baathists have been growing in number. First, as reported before, shortly after Iraq aired the taped confession accusing Baathists of being behind the August bombings, they announced the arrest of an Al Qaeda cell they said actually carried out the attack. Baathists in Syria have condemned the attacks, while Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq is the only group that has publicly claimed responsibility. The United States has said that the incident has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq as well. Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi also stated that Maliki was blaming others for his own security failures, while the Presidential Council that includes Iraq’s president and two vice presidents, called for calm and complained that the Prime Minister was acting unilaterally in accusing Syria of culpability. Middle Eastern analysts have questioned why Syria would knowingly allow such a direct attack upon the Iraqi government a day after Maliki visited the country, and the two were improving ties. A few days before the bombing for example, Iraq’s ambassador in Damascus said that the Assad government was making positive steps to improve security. There have been signs that Syria has stepped up its patrols along its border, agreed to cooperate with the United States on Iraq after a delegation visited the country in August 2009, and has told some Baathists to leave the country and others to lay low. For all of these reasons it appears that Maliki’s real purpose behind attacking Syria is to defer responsibility away from himself for the lapse in security, and keep up his image of maintaining law and order before the January 2010 parliamentary elections.
Aswat al-Iraq, “90% of terrorists came to Iraq through Syria – PM,” 8/31/09
Barnes-Dacey, Julien, “Iraq-Syria dispute jeopardize progress on stability, trade,” Christian Science Monitor, 9/19/09
Dagher, Sam, “2 Blasts Expose Security Flaws in Heart of Iraq,” New York Times, 8/19/09
Hendawi, Hamza, “Analysis: Al-Maliki’s quarrel with Syria over Baghdad bombings backfires on Iraqi premier,” Associated Press, 9/12/09
Worsnip, Patrick, “Iraq PM asks for UN inquiry into Baghdad bombings,” Reuters, 9/3/09