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Behind Baghdad's '9/11'

Regret, rage and recrimination follow last week's deadly attacks.

BAGHDAD — The governor of Baghdad swiveled in his chair pointing out on the surveillance video the suicide truck bomb as it barreled towards the Foreign Ministry.

“It’s 10:54 in the morning — you can see it moving past the cameras,” says Salah Abdel-Razzaq, whose first 100 days in office included plans to remove some of the security barriers and blast walls in the capital.

On the fuzzy screen from one of the dozens of cameras the governorate has positioned on buildings around the city, the bright red fiberglass water tanks packed with explosives stood out like a beacon. Less than four minutes later the screen filled with dust as the bomber detonated.

The carefully planned attacks on the foreign and finance ministries on Wednesday, Aug. 19, that killed more than 100 people and wounded five times as many shook the illusion that security was returning to Iraq. Some Iraqi officials call it their 9/11. The fallout is shaping up to be as cataclysmic as the suicide bombs themselves. And there is a deadly postscript: an attack Monday in southern Iraq that killed at least 11 people when bombs apparently placed on two mini-buses from Baghdad exploded. 

While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reassured Iraqis that their security forces can keep them safe despite some breaches "here and there," they appear to indicate a systemic failure of Iraq’s security network. The recriminations after the bombing have exposed a lack of coordination that has literally provided enough space to drive four-ton trucks through.

And underpinning it all is the persistent belief on the part of Iraq’s Shiite-led government that the country’s Sunni political community is riddled with Baathists plotting to bring the country down.

Baghdad’s governor, Salah Abdel-Razzaq, says authorities are considering arresting some Sunni members of parliament he says have been implicated for having ordered the bombing. Governor Salah, who is from Maliki's Dawa party, has long believed that a Baathist-led coup is waiting to topple him.

Against a backdrop of what had been improving security over the last year, U.S. officials have pointed to reconciliation between the Shiite-led government, Sunni political parties and former insurgents as one of the main elements needed for real stability. Although the street-level sectarian violence that tore Iraq apart after the bombing of the Samarra mosque in 2006 has faded into history, many ordinary Sunni Iraqis believe the government’s fixation with the Baathist threat is wide enough to include them as well.

The attacks have ripped the lid off of what Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari calls unrealistic assessments of security since U.S. combat troops pulled out of cities on June 30 and a tragedy waiting to happen.