Baghdad (Source: Perry-Castaneda)
Yesterday's suicide bombing in a Baghdad market was the worst such attack in the war. The bombing, which targeted a largely Shi'i neighborhood, claimed at least 130 lives. Local residents immediately blamed the U.S. for not providing them with enough security and for failing to implement the much-touted new security plan (New York Times). They are basically right. In recent weeks, the U.S. has put pressure on Jaish al-Mahdi fighters, forcing them to abandon neighborhood checkpoints and thereby reducing their ability to monitor security threats. Meanwhile, Sunni insurgent groups, in anticipation of an American and Iraqi Army offensive are trying to mount ever more spectacular attacks. As I have argued before ("Let the Militias Handle the Militias"), the U.S. needs to realize that it cannot compete with sectarian militias when it comes to providing security for their own people. Furthermore, by putting pressure on fighters affiliated with the Mahdi Army, the Americans are giving Moqtada al-Sadr a chance to evade real responsibility for the security and well-being of Iraqis. Instead, he can criticize the Americans from the sidelines and snipe at the government of al-Maliki. Even if the Americans prove somewhat successful, a single bombing can undo all of their best efforts. In any case, the Iraqi Shi'a are unlikely to credit the U.S. for even slight improvements in their lives.
In the meantime, Sunni insurgents are pursuing a policy that will only accelerate the efforts by various militias working in tandem with Iraqi government ministries to "cleanse" Baghdad of its Sunni population. Likewise, the recent escalations in Kirkuk by Sunni terrorists there will embolden Kurdish security forces to assert a more aggressive posture there. Already under pressure, the Sunni Arabs and the Turkmen in the city will inevitably face suspicion and outright hostility by their Kurdish neighbors.