Several days before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, bomb attacks in Iraq killed more than 50 people Saturday and Sunday. A spike in violence has many people worried, but the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says the country is ready and able to take over security operations.
Eyewitnesses say a suicide car bomber targeted a police patrol Sunday in Ramadi, killing more than half a dozen people. Many of the victims were reportedly retirees waiting in line for social security checks at a local post office.
One middle-aged man from Ramadi complains government officials are incompetent and unable to protect residents of the town.
He complains that many officers in the Iraqi security forces have never finished grade school and cannot even read and write. He urges the government to choose competent and better-educated officers, who know how to maintain security, instead of just talking on their cell-phones.
Angry residents in the Shi'ite city of Basra also complained about the government's inability to protect them, following explosions that killed more than 40 people Saturday at a market in the center of the city.
The head of Basra's provincial security committee, Ali al Maliki, indicated two car bombs, combined with a roadside blast, caused the widespread damage and heavy casualty toll. He asked U.S. forces to help his men with intelligence to prevent such attacks.
He says what is needed now is not U.S. military forces, but help with training and support of the Iraqi intelligence apparatus, in order to head off violence before it occurs.
U.S. combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the month, leaving behind six divisions of up to 50,000 men to help train Iraqi forces.
Saturday, U.S. forces handed over their final base in the country to their Iraqi counterparts in the presence of commanding U.S. General Ray Odierno and Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader al Obeidi. General Odierno praised the development.
"Today is an extremely important day, as we progress towards turning over full responsibility for security to the Iraqi security forces," Odierno said.
But Iraq analyst James Denselow of King's College London says a new surge in violence could be developing.
"U.S. forces in Iraq have acted over the last two years since the surge as a form of break on violence, separating foes within Iraq, and as they withdraw, there seems to be a momentum of violence building up, creating unstoppable cycles of action and counter-action ... This comes back down to the fundamentals, that there is a political system that cannot handle the different demands of the various constituents of Iraq and therefore actions are occurring outside the parliament," Denselow said.
Iraq remains without a government, five months after an inconclusive parliamentary election, and the wave of violence sweeping the country has some officials worried insurgents are taking advantage of the political vacuum.