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10BAGHDAD365 2010-02-11 15:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
Cable title:  

PRT KARBALA: ATTACKS DURING ARBA'IN LEAVE 56 DEAD

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM KTER IZ 
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1. (U) This is a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Karbala
reporting cable.



2. (C) SUMMARY: Fears of violence in Karbala during Arba'in
(reftel A) were realized after four deadly attacks left 56
dead and more than two hundred wounded among the several
million visitors to the event, culminating on February 4.
All four attacks used vehicle-borne improvised explosive
devices (VBIED) and occurred on roads leading into the city
from al-Hillah. Local officials blamed the attacks on
"Ba'athists" and al-Qaida. Karbalans remain concerned about
the chances for increased violence ahead of next month,s
elections. END SUMMARY.

FOUR DEADLY ATTACKS


--------------------------





3. (C) Iraqi security force (ISF) reports confirmed two VBIED
attacks on February 3 along a main route leading into
Karbala. The attacks killed 25 and wounded more than one
hundred. The second two attacks February 5, initially
reported as mortar fire, used two VBIEDs about one half mile
apart and left 31 dead and 118 wounded. ISF sources
confirmed that all four attacks occurred in an area under the
responsibility of a single Iraqi Army commander, who USF-I
interlocutors characterized as generally effective. Local
officials blamed the attacks on al-Qaida and "Ba'athists."
(NOTE: Local press reported that Karbala Governor Amal
al-Din (Da'wa) attributed the second two attacks to "mortar
fire." One local PRT employee speculated that this might be
an effort by the ISF to divert blame away from a more
preventable VBIED attack to one much less easy to combat. END
NOTE.) Another PRT local employee reported that the Governor
planned to blame any attacks on the "Ba'athist threat," even
if there was evidence that the perpetrators were Shi'a
militia.

EXTENSIVE SECURITY PLAN IMPLEMENTED


--------------------------





4. (C) Iraqi media reported an extensive plan for the
February 4 Arba'in commemoration by security officials,
incorporating Karbala and the surrounding provinces. The
plan included deployment of more than 30,000 forces,
increased checkpoints, 1,500 females employed to conduct
searches, use of undercover personnel, installation of
surveillance cameras, and Iraqi and U.S. Air Force air
support. Security operations began ten days in advance of
Arba'in, which caused grumbling among security personnel over
denied leaves during the event, according to a PRT local
employee with relatives in the security forces.



5. (C) Media reports announced the personal participation of
Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Minister of Interior, Jawad
al-Bolani in developing the security plans for the event.
(COMMENT: While Maliki hails from Karbala province and is a
somewhat regular visitor for a variety of political and
personal reasons, this was a rare visit during one of
Karbala's religious events for Bolani, perhaps an indication
of the level of seriousness given to the planning or his own
electioneering on behalf of his Coalition of Iraq,s Unity.
END COMMENT.)



6. The Karbala Police Chief, Ali Jassim al-Greri, criticized
the media during a press conference on January 28 for
creating an uproar over the use of handheld explosive
detecting devices, stating "this is just noise to negatively
affect the security preparations for Arba'iniyah. We have
tested these devices and the results were very good." (NOTE:
The director of the UK manufacturer of the devices was
recently arrested for fraud, resulting in significant Iraqi
Qrecently arrested for fraud, resulting in significant Iraqi
media attention on the devices used at many checkpoints
around the country. The timing of the controversy was
especially harmful to perceptions of security on the eve of
this major religious event. END NOTE)

COMMENT: CONFIDENCE SHIFTS


--------------------------





7. (C) Initial confidence in the Arba'in security plans was
strong, with PRT local employees reporting larger crowds in
attendance than previous years and significant increases in
foreign visitors, especially Iranians and Kuwaitis. Local
officials launched a regular and detailed media plan to
inform the public about the security measures taken. The
attacks during Arba,in, while disturbing, fall within the
amount of violence associated with major Shi,a
commemorations post-2003. While an Arba'iniyyah unmarred by
violence would have been a huge plus for Maliki and the ISF,
the fact that matters were not worse is probably a political
"wash." The attacks have raised concerns for more violence
ahead of next month's elections. Blaming the Ba,athists for
the attacks will add to already negative feelings about Iraqi
judicial decisions to include certain "Ba'athist" electoral
candidates (reftel B).
HILL