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Can Baghdad Ever Be Safe?

Baghdad bridge

Photo by Mohammed Jalil /EPA, from AP/MSNBC

Like every other day in Iraq, there were mutliple bombings and scores of Iraqis killed on Thursday, as well as additional US casualties. But two bombings were particularly important for the signals they sent about the precarious position of the Iraq government and the prospects for success in the President's escalation strategy, which Bush described as a carefully planned strategy to enhance security in Baghdad.

The first set of explosions in the early morning hours of Thursday destroyed a major bridge in Baghdad that crosses the Tigris River and connects the predominantly Sunni areas on the western side with the predominantly Shia areas on the eastern side. The second bombing incident occurred in a cafetaria used by the Iraqi Parliament, in a heavily guarded building in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Here's the NYT version of the twin stories.

Two bombs struck at the heart of Iraq's power and morale Thursday: a suicide bomb exploded in the Iraqi Parliament and a powerful truck bomb destroyed a 60-year old steel bridge beloved by Baghdadis that linked neighborhoods on opposite banks of the Tigris.

A suicide truck bomb blew up on a major bridge in Baghdad, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars tumbling into the Tigris River.

The bomb in parliament killed eight people, including at least two parliament members, and injured 23, who were eating a late lunch in the cafeteria when the bomb exploded, according to United States military officials. . . . [But see this AP update on casualties]

It was the worst bombing to take place in the International Zone since the protected area was established when American troops arrived here four years ago.

The bombing, in an area more heavily protected than anywhere else in the country, appeared designed to shake Iraqi confidence in the government and in its ability to protect itself, let alone its citizens. Since the bombing occurred within the International Zone it appeared also meant to show that even the American military cannot protect Iraqis, despite the number of troops and the effort being put into the new Baghdad security plan.

"This is a great blow to the government, which is always talking about security and how it is improving with the Americans, but it's a great violation of their security plan," said Ali al-Mayali, an injured parliament member from the bloc allied with militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, as he sat outside the hospital holding gauze to his head to staunch bleeding from a shrapnel injury.

Thursday's two bombings tell us a lot about the virtual impossibility of providing security against a determined, well armed and disciplined force fighting a civil war against an unpopular regime propped up by an occupying army. And the Parliament bombing reveals much about the level of security in the Green Zone. A WSJ reporter on PBS's NewsHour explained that security inside the Green Zone was not significantly better than security outside the Green Zone, and the zone inself was turning into many smaller guarded compounds, each relying on its own security rather than the Iraqi Army/Police.

The message to the Iraq government is clear: You cannot trust your own forces to protect yourselves inside the Green Zone. The Americans can't protect you. You cannot be safe until you deal directly with the insurgents, and even that is just a hope.

The message to the US is equally clear: You do not have enough troops to secure Baghdad. You cannot rely on your Iraqi friends to protect even their own government buildings. Despite its fortification, you cannot protect the Green Zone, let alone the city's open markets or its roads or even the major bridges in and out of the captial. And if you can't secure those, you can't even guarantee that you could leave safely. (Swopa has more on that point.)

I suspect we won't hear Senators McCain or Lieberman talking about "progress" in Iraq for a few days, at least without being derided. But I doubt the Bush/Cheney regime will get the message; they seem incapable of acknowledging inconvenient facts. But they can't fix this with more troops, because they have no more troops to send. Instead, they are determined to break the US army by extending tours and draining the reserves and National Guard, while putting even more of our troops in harms way. It's up to the Congress to stop what Senator Webb called an "abuse" of the Army and to begin removing US forces from what appears to be a rapidly deteriorating position.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley