Baghdad Bombings: Is Iraq Unraveling Again?

Baghdad Bombings: Is Iraq Unraveling Again?

At least five bomb attacks in Iraq in the past 48 hours have left some 140 people dead, wounded dozens more and raised fears that the country may be returning to the sectarian violence from which it has only just emerged. On Thursday three bombs in central Baghdad and areas northeast of the capital killed at least 80 people and wounded more than 100. On Friday, a double suicide bombing at the most important Shi’ite shrine in Baghdad killed another 60 and injured 125 more. The bombs went off as people gathered for Friday prayers at the mosque and tomb where the prominent Shi’a saint Imam Mousa al-Kazim is buried. Last weekend, a pair of mortars or rockets slammed into the Green Zone, the first such attack since mid-January. The number of murders across Iraq that appear related to insurgent violence has also risen over the past few weeks.

Is Iraq unraveling again Nervous Iraqis worry that the new spate of violence is a sign of what could happen when the U.S. begins pulling its troops out in June .

Much of the fear is based on what a U.S. withdrawal means practically. One example: U.S. military officials are in the process of closing Camp Bucca, the main U.S. military prison in Iraq. The closure, in line with the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement, has American officials handing some suspected insurgents to Iraqi authorities but letting hundreds of others go with no proper investigation or trial to determine their guilt or innocence. U.S. military officials have long acknowledged that some detainees held at Camp Bucca are likely innocent. But allegations of insurgent ties against many others will go largely unanswered as the prison empties in the coming months. And as hundreds of prisoners go free, many Iraqis worry that former inmates who were indeed involved with the insurgency will return to their old ways.

That worries Sheik Mustafa Kamil Shbeb al-Jabouri, a tribal leader from a town south of Baghdad and a member of the Sunni Awakening movement. Dozens of former prisoners have resettled in his area. Each time one arrives home Jabouri sits down with him for a chat. “We give a little lecture to anyone from our area who’s been released from Camp Bucca and come back,” says Jabouri, whose tribal fighters have been working with American troops against insurgents since 2007. “We tell them that if they behave well, there will be no problems. If not, they will be right back in prison.”

Like other Iraqis, Jabouri wonders who exactly is behind the latest spate of killings. Possibilities include agents of Iran as well as a reconstituting Ba’athist movement. The umbrella insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq remains the most vocal and visible among Iraq’s militants, however. Many Iraqi security officials, insurgency experts in Baghdad and Awakening leaders worry that the militants, who melted away during the U.S surge, may have reformed into smaller, yet increasingly lethal, movements in their existing havens of Mosul and Diyala province. Indeed, there is some fear that al-Qaeda may be infiltrating the Awakening.

The increase in suspected insurgent attacks was already apparent before the waves of former prisoners began emerging from Camp Bucca. Several Awakening leaders and officers in the Iraqi security forces interviewed by TIME say they do not believe that the former Bucca inmates are contributing to the rise in violence these days.

But Jabouri remains watchful, for good reason. The remaining insurgent fighters in Iraq have a particular interest in assassinating Awakening members, many of whom once cooperated with the insurgency before joining forces with the Americans. Jabouri says he has survived 51 assassination attempts, and believes at least some of the former Bucca inmates now returning to his area have been involved. “Some of them I know helped make bombs meant to kill me,” he says, knowing that there may be more attempts. The quest for vengeance is Iraq’s curse.

See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

See the Cartoons of the Week.