Iraqis: We won't fall for 'game'

BAGHDAD — Tempers are cool in Iraq despite a string of bombings that has killed more than 125 people in two weeks, fueling hopes that the attacks won't trigger retaliatory killings, at least for now.

The Sunni Muslim group al-Qaida in Iraq is the likely culprit in the bombings, most of which have targeted followers of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say the attacks appear to be intended to trigger sectarian violence.

But Iraqis haven't sought revenge for the bombings, which have been aimed at mosques and religious celebrations.

"People understand this game now, and they will not be party to it," said Ali Jawad, 18, who witnessed a series of explosions Tuesday night near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad.

Many Iraqis, including Jawad, suspect that their political parties have had a hand in the bombings. They think the explosions are intended to discredit Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki before January's national election.

"This is a struggle between the political parties," said Thikrayat Abdulrazaq, 35, a pharmacist who also saw Tuesday's explosions. "They are using means of intimidation to show that the government is not capable of keeping the peace."

A threat to unity

Al-Maliki is running on a national unity platform, casting himself as the man who stabilized Iraq and laid the groundwork for the drawdown of U.S. forces. Continued violence would puncture his credibility, some lawmakers said.

"There are some political factions who would stoop low enough to encourage these acts of violence in order to crumble the confidence of people on the street in the ability of Prime Minister al-Maliki to run the country," said Izzat al-Shabendar, an independent Shiite lawmaker in parliament.

His charge carries some weight because some of Iraq's political parties gained power with their own militias. al-Sadr's party was linked to the Mahdi Army, which initially formed to protect Shiites from Sunni insurgents but gradually went on the offensive with brutal killings.

The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, another Shiite party, had its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, and Iraqi Kurds have the peshmerga militia.

"They are showing their muscle to each other, and it is the poor, simple man on the street who is paying the price," Jawad said.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq and a former brigade commander in Baghdad, said levels of violence in Iraq are at their lowest point since the 2003 invasion despite the high-profile attacks.

"The attacks have the hallmarks of violent extremists who are threatened by a strong, unified population. They prefer to see gains in security and national sovereignty disintegrate. We are not seeing that happen; the people recognize these as attacks against them, not the armed forces or the government," he said.

Two of the biggest recent attacks occurred in the northern city of Mosul, where al-Qaida in Iraq remains a force and residents sometimes are caught in turf wars between Kurds and Arabs.

Two truck bombs leveled a Shiite village north of Mosul on Monday, killing at least 30 people, and more than 40 died in Mosul last Friday when a bomb exploded near a mosque.

Twenty-one people — most of them Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority — were killed Thursday afternoon northwest of Mosul when two men wearing suicide vests walked into a cafe and detonated their bombs. Targeting minorities is another sign of the sectarian violence that raged in Iraq from 2006 to last year.

United States is blamed

In Diyala, a troubled province east of Baghdad, there have been five kidnappings this week. Ransom from kidnappings sometimes is used to finance attacks, but police officials in Diyala said they weren't sure whether that was happening.

Bombings in Baghdad's Shiite Amil and Sadr City neighborhoods mainly harmed Sadrists, who are considered a hotheaded force in Iraqi politics. They have threatened to revive the Mahdi Army and as recently as winter held rallies at which thousands of people denounced U.S. forces during negotiations over their withdrawal.

Sadrists aren't sounding any of those calls now. "We don't have any intention" of reviving an armed security force, said Salah al-Obaidi, a spokesman for the Sadr Party who is close to al-Sadr.

Obaidi and other Sadrists blame U.S. forces and al-Qaida in Iraq for the bombings. They contend that extended violence would justify a lengthier U.S. presence in Iraq. U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi cities and towns by June 30 in accordance with the timetable in the U.S.-Iraq security pact.

Worshippers at several Sadrist mosques must pray outside since al-Maliki closed their doors in the aftermath of a crackdown last year on the Mahdi Army. That makes people at the mosques especially vulnerable, but Sadiq al-Rikabi, senior political adviser to al-Maliki, said the Sadrists wouldn't invite armed guards to search worshippers at prayers today.

"The government should carry the responsibility of the citizens' security," he said. "We do not demand extra security; it's just their duty."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton is on a two-month assignment in Iraq for McClatchy Newspapers.

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