A suicide bomber blew himself up and killed seven people in Baghdad yesterday on the first anniversary of the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Far from that being the turning point the US had hoped for, the conflict remains bitter a year later. American planes have resumed bombing Fallujah, which the Marines claimed to have captured last month. Seven US Marines were killed in combat in western Iraq at the weekend. And the suicide bombings are creating a growing mood of insecurity in the capital.
“I am a building worker and I was waiting with my two brothers to enter the Green Zone when a bomb exploded near us,” said Saleh Hassan Sajid, as he lay with a broken leg and a deep gash in his face at al-Yarmouk hospital. “I heard that one of my brothers was killed and the other is injured.”
Kifah Khudair Abbas, 41, who has seven children, was in the back of a car being driven by her brother-in-law when the bomb went off. She was knocked unconscious but it was the Iraqi police who inflicted her worst injury by shooting indiscriminately after the attack. “I got wounded by a bullet in my leg when the police opened fire,” said Mrs Abbas as she lay in a hospital.
Her son Abbas Hussein, standing beside her bed, said: “I am very angry about what happened to my mother. The Americans caused all this mess. All these explosions and all this security vacuum is because of the Americans.”
The blast of the bomb, which exploded at about 9am, was strong enough to shake the doors and windows of The Independent office two miles away.
The entrances to the Green Zone are peculiarly vulnerable to attack but the casualties are almost invariably Iraqi workers or passers-by. The seat of the interim government and the American and British embassies, the 3 sq km zone is also an easy target for the insurgents’ mortars which lob bombs almost every night.
Responsibility for the attack yesterday was claimed on a website by the al-Qa’ida Organisation for Holy War in Iraq reputedly led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It said: “On this blessed day, a lion from the martyrs battalion struck a group of apostates and Americans in the Green Zone.”
Iraq’s interim President, Ghazi al-Yawar, said in an interview with the BBC yesterday that the US was wrong to dismantle the Iraqi army and security forces.
“Definitely, dissolving the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior was a big mistake at the time,” he told the BBC. He said as soon as Iraq had efficient security forces “we can see the beginning of the withdrawal from our friends and partners and I think it doesn’t take years, it will take months”.
US commanders have been trying to build up and train Iraqi security forces but there is little sign of this working. In Mosul, supposedly a model for US-Iraqi co-operation a year ago, the 8,000-strong police force dissolved last month when guerrillas attacked. President Yawar, a Sunni tribal chief, said that Iraqis yearned for strong leadership in the current turmoil. He warned: “This could create an environment in which an Iraqi Hitler could emerge like the one created by the defeat of Germany and the humiliation of Germans in World War One.”
Members of the Iraqi interim government are much more visible and vocal abroad than they are in Iraq – and enthusiasm for foreign travel among government ministers is a standing joke in the press. Their absence is understandable because they are in danger of assassination in Baghdad and are often confined to the Green Zone and a few heavily defended government buildings.
Hoshyar Zebari, the Foreign Minister, said that he hoped that Saddam would stand trial a matter of weeks after the election. Eight of Saddam’s former senior aides are reported to have refused food on Monday morning seeking a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross. A US military spokesman said they had eaten two hours later.
The failure to quell the insurgency makes it less and less likely that the election can be held in Sunni Arab districts on 30 January. In Mosul most of the voter registration materials have been destroyed.