President Barack Obama’s decision to pull American troops out of Iraq “unraveled” on Thursday when a coordinated bombing campaign killed about 70 people and injured nearly 200 more, Sen. John McCain charged.
“We are paying a very heavy price in Baghdad because of our failure to have a residual force there,” the veteran Arizona senator told CBS News’ Chris Wragge.
“I’m deeply disturbed by events there, but not surprised.”
McCain ridiculed administration claims that it left behind “a stable Iraq” after formally ending the eight-year war there last week. “We needed the residual force there. It’s not there and now things are unraveling tragically.”
McCain has led the way in attacks on Obama’s decision to leave Iraq to sort itself out, five years after the execution of former President Saddam Hussein. He quoted retired four-star general Jack Keane as saying that the United States had “won the war and is now losing the peace.”
In an earlier joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, McCain had said, “The U.S. government must do whatever it can to help Iraqis stabilize the situation.”
Within days of the pullout, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, alleging that he was organizing death squads. He also called for a vote of no-confidence in another Sunni politician, deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.
The moves exacerbated tensions between the two groups and fueled fears among both Sunnis and Kurds that Maliki was intent on consolidating power and driving any non-Shiite out of office.
“Indicting a vice president and killing his bodyguards is out there, even by Iraqi standards,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Thomas Donnelly wrote in an email to conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. “Maliki must have had these moves in mind even while meeting with Obama last week and before.”
Rubin also quoted AEI resident scholar Fred Kagan as saying, “The collapse of Iraq in the wake of the withdrawal of US forces is already underway. The situation is dire and deteriorating more rapidly than most people expected it would.”
Vice President Joe Biden called Maliki on Tuesday to express concern at the arrest warrant, telling him “whatever the facts actually were, the Iraqis were creating a perception problem that would not advance their interests.”
Hashemi got wind of the warrant in advance and fled Baghdad for the Kurd-controlled north of the country where he is essentially out of the reach of authorities.
But while Hashemi is safe, the Iraqi people are not and a wave of roadside bombings swept through the capital early on Thursday, in the worst violence the country has seen in months.
Most of the attacks were aimed at Shiite areas, The Associated Press reported, although some also seemed to be aimed at Sunnis.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the bombings.
“It is especially important during this critical period that Iraq’s political leaders work to resolve differences peacefully, through dialogue, and in accordance with Iraq’s constitution and laws,” the Embassy said in a statement.
“Senseless acts of violence tear at the fabric of Iraqi unity and do not in any way help the people of Iraq or any of its communities.”
But opposition figures inside the country lay much of the blame on Obama’s decision not to extend the departure deadline set by George W. Bush.
Shiite opposition leader Ayad Allawi told Reuters, “"The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don't have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis, and we don't have a full-blown state in Iraq."
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