Catching up on Central Asia’s Nostalgic Anti-Democracy

The Associated Press looks up to see the Former Soviet Union not all that democratic. Most of it is pretty anodyne, so let’s look at what they say about Central Asia:

Ukraine, where massive protests in 2004 ushered in a reformist Western-leaning pro-NATO government, almost immediately devolved into factional jealousies that effectively paralyzed the country. Voters threw out that regime last year in favor of a Russia-friendly president, who is under wide criticism from the West for politically motivated prosecutions and pressure on independent news media. Ukraine meanwhile has acquired international notoriety for frequent brawls in parliament, and whether the country ultimately tilts West or East remains a question.

Georgia, whose 2003 Rose Revolution led the way for the region’s regime-changing mass protests, was driving firmly toward NATO and European Union membership under reformist President Mikheil Saakashvili. But the momentum petered out after Georgia’s five-day war with Russia in 2008, which both the Kremlin and many Georgians blame on Saakashvili’s impetuosity.

Well… okay. We should probably add that Ukraine’s world-class hottie-Parliamentarian Yulia Timoshekno is currently on trial for alleged involvement in some weird money laundering issue concerning Ukraine’s natural gas (there is currently a debate over the exact nature of Ukraine’sgas-transaction relationship with Russia). And there is also, let us not forget, a tremendous PR effort to spin Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia as one of hapless Georgia victimized by evil, rampaging Russia (and oh yeah, and Georgia’s continued harassment of journalists).

There are some other interesting tidbits in there, like how the riots last year in Kyrgyzstan say… something about the country’s prospects for “democracy” (however defined, and the author doesn’t really say how or why). They declare Turkmenistan has “thrown off much of the personality cult engendered by the late eccentric leader Saparmurat Niyazov,” which isjust not correct. And then the piece ends with, well, the former Soviet Union is a varied, hetergeneous place. Thanks for that, AP!

Back in April, both Nathan and I discussed Central Asia’s fall from grace, of sorts. While I focused on the social and economic issues facing much of the region, Nathan actually made a far more interesting point:

I have wondered recently whether or not there is an under-appreciation for the extent to which current practices of Central Asian governments are the result of the preservation or resurrection of Soviet institutions, modified though they may be… Obviously, none of these countries are perfectly characterized as Soviet replicants with national characteristics. However, the state-society relationship seems to be fundamentally unaltered. Each government acts as if its primary function is to shepherd its citizens toward a goal spanning from Kazakhstan’s mundane but admirable and realistic desire to be wealthy and important in the international system to Uzbekistan’s abstract, hard-to-pin-down desire to build a distinctly Uzbek super-awesome-state that everyone will avoid looking directly in the eyes because it’s so super-awesome.

That each of these governments has a somewhat to downright adversarial relationship with their respective publics helps, I think, explain a good deal of the “why?” to which Josh referred at the end of his post a couple days ago. But it doesn’t satisfactorily answer the timing.

We might never understand why this is all happening at once, 15-20 years after they became independent. But it’s certainly worth pondering as the international community embarks on new nation-building campaigns in places like Libya,

Female Afghan Government Worker Gunned Down in South

Female Afghan Government Worker Gunned Down in South

Afghan officials say a female provincial government worker has been gunned down outside her home in the southern city of Kandahar.

A government spokesman says the woman, Rabia Sadat, was shot and killed by a gunman on a motorcycle as she walked to her car on Tuesday morning. Her driver was wounded in the attack.

Sadat worked for the government’s social affairs program in Kandahar province. No group has yet claimed responsibility, and officials are not sure why the woman was targeted.

The attack comes a day after militants attacked a supply depot outside the main international military base in southern Kandahar province, killing four private security guards. Six other guards were wounded.

Provincial spokesman Zalmai Ayubi said insurgents armed with explosives Monday stormed the compound operated by Netherlands-based Supreme Group, which supplies fuel to the military. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and the main city in southern Afghanistan.

Militants have carried out several high-profile killings in the southern city in recent weeks. Last month, a suicide bomber, with explosives hidden inside his turban, assassinated the mayor of Kandahar.

Also last month, a trusted bodyguard shot and killed President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Meanwhile provincial officials in eastern Afghanistan say 12 civilians were wounded by mortars fired during an overnight clash between NATO forces and insurgents in Kunar province.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, with international troop and Afghan civilian deaths reaching record levels.

Pro-Karzai parliamentary group set up

No details available

Pro-Karzai parliamentary group set up

by Abasin Zaheer

KABUL (PAN): A new group called “Reformists” has been created in the lower house of parliament in support of the special election court’s verdict and President Hamid Karzai’s decree.

The coalition is said to have 106 members, including 33 who have parted ways with the Coalition to Support Enforcement of Law, a grouping that has asked for the president’s resignation.

The anti-Karzai coalition had earlier 137 members, but now 33 of them have joined the new group. On June 23, the tribunal declared 62 members of Parliament as losers and ordered their replacement by losing candidates.

The decision, if implemented, can cause the 62 sittings MPs to vacate their seats. Last week, President Karzai issued a decree handing theIEC authority to resolve the lingering row over the election results.

The decree dissolved Afghanistan’s special election tribunal — which Karzai had backed — and disqualified other government bodies from ruling on the issue, which is being eagerly watched by diplomats in Kabul.

The IEC had certified the original election results last November but will now have to issue a fresh ruling, following months of controversy.

The Coalition to Support Enforcement of Law has been staging protests against the decree. As part of the protest drive, the latest rally was staged in Kabul on Tuesday.

On the occasion, the Reformists announced its creation and support to Karzai’s decree. MP Alami Balkhi, speaking on behalf of coalition members, said their fundamental objective was to end the ongoing confrontation between the three state pillars.

He claimed Karzai had issued the decree on their demand. He said the order was aimed at resolving the confrontation as soon as possible.

Another member of the new group, Siddiq Ahmad Osmani, a lawmaker from central Parwan province, said they would support the IEC decision if it was in line with the constitution and the electoral law.

Some members of the Coalition to Support Enforcement of Law joined the new parliamentary group. Sher Wali Wardak, who switched sides, said the Coalition to Support Enforcement of Law had been created against the election tribunal.

Now that the tribunal has been dissolved, there is no need for the coalition, according to Wardak.

CSTO: All dressed up, nowhere to go

[The race to militarize Central Asia is taking shape in the competing Quick/Rapid Reaction Forces now being constructed by both the CSTO and NATO.  If Russian leaders fail to act quickly and follow through with conference agreements, by cobbling-together something like an agreement and beginning to equip the forces involved with the proper equipment, then the aggressive US military/diplomacy efforts will simply overwhelm the CSTO.  Much like the fading pipeline wars, the two sides are attempting to outdeal, outbluff and outlie each other, until hard contracts can be signed.  In the pipeline wars, the Nabucco strategy, in particular, fell apart over failure to obtain hard committments, in writing, early on, leaving wiggle room where there shouldn’t have been any.  This vacillating policy, searching for the path of least resistance and less cost, resulted in the Nabucco fiasco of a proposed pipeline that had no suppliers.  All of these contests in CA are being determined by whether govt. leaders there choose to place their trust in their former Russian masters or in the Americans, who are obviously, aggressively striving for world conquest everyday.  In interstate agreements, whether they be for pipelines or for security, trust is the most important issue.]

CSTO: All dressed up, nowhere to go

By M K Bhadrakumar
There is no knowing whether the timing of the “informal” summit meeting of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) last Friday in the Kazakh capital of Astana was mischievously planned or was a genuine goof-up. It happened to be on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the ill-conceived coup in Moscow in August 1991, which eventually brought the Soviet Union tumbling down in a heap in the history books.

Even more curiously, as CSTO’s leaders gathered in Astana a three-week annual military exercise began in Almaty, the old capital of Kazakhstan, involving the United States and Britain. The Kazakh government announced that the exercise would focus on “interaction, combat compatibility, cooperation and interoperability during international peacekeeping operations”, which are more or less the leitmotif of CSTO, which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The Kazakhs are hoping to have a much bigger exercise next year, which would be dedicated to checking the “level of compatibility of the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] member-states”; and they would expect representatives from 40 NATO participating states to arrive in Kazakhstan.

And yet, CSTO was meant to have been the “NATO of the East”. Russia has been increasingly inclined to set more ambitious goals for the alliance. Russia’s security strategy until 2020 sees the CSTO as “a key mechanism to counter regional military challenges and threats”.

High hopes 
In the run-up to last week’s summit at Astana, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev anticipated that Russia would have “an interest in bolstering the CSTO’s potential” and would be “upfront and open about it”. He signaled that he would focus on developments in the Arab world and how “ultimately developments in North Africa and the Arab world have a direct impact on the situation in the CSTO countries, too, especially on developments in Central Asia”.

Medvedev set an agenda for the CSTO as a global security organization. Whereas, CSTO secretary general Nikolai Bordyuzha acknowledged that the “uppermost concern” of the alliance was the “impact Afghanistan is having on the situation in the Central Asian region and the increased activity of extremist groups in this region”.

He explained, “A sizeable number of young people from CSTO member countries are undergoing training in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a threat of terrorist groups forcing their way into the Central Asian countries’ territory.” Bordyuzha added:

A second problem is the fundamentalist Islamic organizations’ activeness in the CSTO countries themselves and their efforts to win over new supporters, reaching into the social base in which these kinds of religious opposition groups and also terrorist groups take root. We are also worried by the activeness of organized crime groups … to bribe the authorities and establish contacts with extremist and terrorist groups … Overall, although the situation is stable in our view, there are nonetheless a number of trends of real concern, and we have drafted our proposals [for the Astana summit] accordingly.

He envisaged a role for CSTO extending “military-technical cooperation and military-economic cooperation to those member countries that do require help in some areas”.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the CSTO, was more specific: “We have nothing to conceal: the Muslim world is in turmoil, and it can not be ruled out that the situation may be exacerbated in our Muslim countries as well. First of all in Tajikistan, and there are enough problems in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and some have started to stir up problems in Kazakhstan from different sides.”

Lukashenko would have been doing some kite-flying with the Kremlin’s prior concurrence when he suggested that the CSTO’s primary goal is to turn the “consultative body [which it is currently] into a real military and political bloc, ready to react to any crisis situation and to this end adopt a special targeted program on equipping the CSTO forces with military hardware and modern weapons.”

Disappointing ending
However, the Astana summit ended up on a far different note. What emerges is that CSTO is finding itself in an impasse in Central Asia. Uzbek leader Islam Karimov developed cold feet and failed to turn up. As the ongoing military exercise in Kazakhstan testifies, Central Asian countries are increasingly adopting a “multi-vector” approach to regional security. The CSTO member countries have one foot in the NATO tent as well and often that foot seems to be the more purposive and “kinetic” one.

On the eve of the Astana summit, it came to be known that Kyrgyzstan was going to receive US$30 million worth of assistance from the US to install new air traffic control systems to replace Russian equipment.

Lukashenko was in a noticeably chastened mood by Friday afternoon. He told the media, “Certainly, assessing our work, we have noted that there are several internal drawbacks. I mean not only the domestic problems of the CSTO member states but also divisive issues between the countries.”

Indeed, Karimov’s absence arose out of the critically “divisive issue” of the prerogative of the CSTO intervening in the internal affairs of a member country. Tashkent has been reluctant to be drawn into a CSTO framework of cooperation over the deployment of its rapid reaction force, while other member countries are agreeable.

Last year’s crisis situation in Kyrgyzstan exposed the CSTO’s weakness as an effective regional security body. Lukashenko may be unduly optimistic that the formation of a collective rapid reaction force can be completed by December.

The “NATO of the East” claims as an important outcome of the Astana summit the agreement to jointly counter potential threats in cyber-space.

Lukashenko said, “Many new goals have appeared in the light of recent world events, including those in the Arab states and in North Africa. We have agreed that our countries will work out measures to fight potential threats, primarily in the information sphere and cyber-space.”

The reasons why the CSTO is floundering in Central Asia are not far to seek. CSTO has a role cut out for it in Central Asia when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has no intention of turning into a military bloc, while the military aspects of regional cooperation are crucial against the backdrop of the Afghan problem and the volatility in the current security situation in Central Asia and in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in particular.

However, the clincher is the CSTO’s ability or readiness to act promptly and resolutely by using military force, wherever necessary, to put down violence. At present, CSTO remains a theoretical proposition of collective security but devoid of any real content.

Moscow has consistently urged the grouping to boost its defense ties. Moscow is acutely conscious that Western powers are actively working against the CSTO gaining traction and have, therefore, sought to expand cooperation among the member states in the military and foreign policy spheres.

But progress has been tardy. For instance, the collective peacekeeping force of the alliance was supposed to have been formed sometime last year and there is still no certainty on that front. Again, Moscow has pitched for closer coordination of military planning. In April, the chiefs of the general staff of the CSTO member states agreed to form a military committee to supplement the Council of Defense Ministers. This fitted in with Moscow’s ambitious goal of claiming a measure of global role along the lines that NATO is carving out, especially involvement in international peacekeeping operations.

The CSTO summit in Moscow last December raised hopes that the alliance was finally on the move when it adopted 33 agreements and decisions, including amendments of the alliance’s founding treaties and five agreements on crisis settlement. (See Moscow moves to counter NATO, Asia Times Online, Dec 14, 2010)

However, Uzbekistan figured as a major dissenting voice. At the summit in December, Karimov insisted that the alliance must confine itself to countering external threats and should not be involved in settling conflicts among the former Soviet republics.

Subsequently, Karimov expressed solidarity with Turkmenistan’s stance on regional security, which devolves on the concept of “positive neutrality”. Karimov seemed to imply that Tashkent might drift toward “neutrality” if Moscow pushed the envelope. Again, Karimov point-blank refused to sign certain documents that were drawn up for the December summit.

Price of parsimony 
Meanwhile, as the current Kazakh military exercise illustrates, the Central Asian states are developing their ties with NATO. Tajikistan, for instance, has taken help from NATO to reinforce the border with Afghanistan including the establishment of outposts and the construction of a bridge across the Pyandzh River.

NATO instructors are training Tajik forces in mine sweeping and prevention of drug trafficking. Tajikistan figures as a transit point for NATO’s supplies for the troops in northern Afghanistan. The Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported in June quoting experts that “Dushanbe wanted the [NATO] alliance to establish a military base in Tajikistan. It offered the Aini airfield to NATO, which is a convenient staging post for flying missions” in northern Afghanistan.

Part of the problem is that Central Asia has increasingly become a region of states, which have specific national interests of their own. This has complicated Moscow’s task of influencing the region as a whole in a unified direction.

The specter of Arab-Spring style turmoil breaking out in Central Asia may seem a “unifying factor”, but on the other hand, the Central Asian states are savvy enough to know that such an eventuality becomes a very remote possibility in the current scenario; there are no forces in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan that are capable of mounting a revolution.

Ironically, the authoritarian regimes can even use the Arab Spring as an argument in favor for the “stability” they offer to the people. There is indeed economic and political stagnation in the region, but a Middle East-like “revolutionary fuse” is lacking. Part of the problem also lies in the Russian policies. Russian scholar Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie recently summed up:

Russia failed to define its national interests in Central Asia and interpreted them too ineptly. It lost an opportunity to influence the domestic policy in these states. They don’t have a “pro-Russian” lobby anymore. There are individuals who for personal reasons would like to be closer to Russia, but there are no longer any parties or interest groups that would treat Russia as a primary strategic partner … Look at their elites. By age and mentality, they are Soviet people, but they still treat Russia with suspicion.

But then, Russia has often also been less than generous by insisting that cooperation should be based on mutual interests and by withholding help unless it brought commensurate “returns”.

Russia hasn’t hesitated to drive hard bargains with even a tiny country like Tajikistan. Moscow’s demand for a quid pro quo for its help is not without justification. Arguably, Russia too is beset with its own problems, which may lead to an extreme view that spending money on its impoverished Central Asian backyard is like squandering scarce resources. From such a perspective, when it comes to the CSTO, the old adage comes to mind – “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

Parwan Assault Latest Hit In Methodical Campaign Against Northern Alliance Leaders

[It is difficult to interpret the meaning in the string of murders of anti-Taliban leaders, whether it is being done to facilitate the return of the Taliban, or to eliminate the most vocal opposition to the principle of negotiating with the Taliban.  Is it the handiwork of the Taliban’s sponsors, or is it the work of those who want to validate the negotiation process?]

Parwan assault latest in Taliban ‘hit campaign’ against hardened rivals



Parwan Attack.jpg

The destroyed vehicle of Parwan governor Baseer Salangi following an IED attack on June 21, 2011, sits at a government compound. Source:Pajhwok News.

Shortly before lunchtime on June 21, a young man wearing jeans and a T-shirt came within a few meters of the Parwan provincial governor’s convoy and detonated himself, killing the driver of the convoy and a young girl passing by. The blast injured at least two Afghan policemen guarding the convoy as well.

At the time, the attack against Governor Abdul Baseer Salangi received scant attention. Abdul Baseer Salangi is a former commander from the anti-Taliban movement known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (1996-2001) and previously served as the chief of police for Kabul and later for Wardak province. He is now the current governor of Parwan province, which lies north of Kabul province and is home to Bagram airbase, the sprawling logistics hub for Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

“Why are the Taliban continually trying to kill Abdul Baseer,” a resident of Parwan contacted by The Long War Journal asked rhetorically. “They are trying to kill him repeatedly, is he really that staunch of an anti-Taliban commander, or is it because he is just a supporter of Karzai?”

The answer lies somewhere in between, and likely includes strategic posturing by elements of the Pakistani intelligence services who seek to marginalize anti-Taliban elements within the Kabul regime when it comes to the ongoing effort to engage in political negotiations with various factions of the Afghan Taliban. The seriousness with which the Taliban, and possibly their external supporters, view existing anti-Taliban entities within the Kabul regime has become increasingly clear since May 2010, when the Taliban commenced the launch of an increasing number of military offensives. Since last year, scores of high-level anti-Taliban commanders have been killed across northern and southern Afghanistan.

On Aug. 14, the Taliban again tried to kill Governor Salangi by conducting a complex assault using up to six suicide bombers to breach the perimeter of the governor’s compound in Charikar, the provincial capital of Parwan – an attack that decimated the compound and killed upwards of 22 government personnel. Governor Salangi and his top security officers were inside holding a meeting at the time of the attack, which suggests that the Taliban had received actionable intelligence prior to the meeting to enhance their chances of eliminating most of the predominant security chiefs for the strategic province. Salangi himself reportedly returned fire against his would-be assassins, killing the last remaining suicide bomber before the situation was brought under control.

Most media reports focused on the Taliban’s “success” in being able to launch an attack against the provincial capital of Parwan, and in so doing, failed to properly contextualize the ongoing decline in Parwan’s security – a trend evident since at least 2009.*

Earlier this year, the US helped facilitate the creation of the Afghan National Army’s 6th Battalion headquarters in the Posht-e Sorkh area of Parwan. The 6th Battalion, which on paper could field 800 army personnel (projected), is expected to enhance the security around Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, and Bamyan provinces while helping to improve the coordination between the ANA, Afghan National Police, and National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces as well as Coalition forces.

Although the media latched onto the Aug. 14 attack because of its resemblance to other complex assaults aimed at highly visible government targets since the launch of the Taliban’s Operation Badr this spring, this attack is actually the latest in a longstanding attempt by the Taliban to erode the former structure of the anti-Taliban tazim (faction) the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, or its contemporary manifestation, the United National Front, better known as its derogatory label given by Pakistan, “the Northern Alliance.”**

On May 28, a clandestinely-placed IED killed two pro-government security commanders for northern Afghanistan during a high-level security meeting in Takhar province. General Daud Daud, a former Shura-e-Nurzar commander and head of the 303 Pamir Zone Afghan National Police Command, and his former Shura-e-Nazar deputy Shah Jahan Noori, the Takhar provincial police chief, were both killed in the attack. Two German soldiers were also killed, and Major General Markus Kneip, Regional Commander North for the International Security Assistance Force, was wounded in the attack, as was the governor of Takhar province.

Previously, Sayed Omarkhaili, the provincial police chief for Kunduz (and another former Shura-e-Nazar commander), was killed by a suicide bomber as he made his way home from Kunduz City, on March 10. Scores of similar attacks have killed numerous district and local level security and intelligence officers throughout northern Afghanistan since last year.

The recent complex assault against Governor Salangi (during the holy month of Ramadan, no less) represents the Taliban’s greater strategic objective of marginalizing the former anti-Taliban political and military bloc led by the United Front, possibly eroding enough powerful figures to help cushion the international community’s push for negotiations with the Taliban, a contentious proposition that has raised the ire of many former United Front commanders and political blocs. Although Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan President and leader of the United Front, is in charge of the Afghan High Peace Council, the Afghan committee tasked with “bringing in the Taliban from the cold,” many insiders have accused him of deliberately sabotaging overtures to the Taliban.

While these rumors remain unconfirmed, other high-level opposition leaders, such as the former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh, continually warn the West and the Afghan government against engaging in talks with the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters. This sharp political divide runs the risk of leading to a civil war, warned Saleh in a recent interview with CNN. Saleh indicated that if the Taliban are permitted to return as a “Hezbollah-like entity” — then he and his anti-Taliban constituency must “rise up” against them.

* The author traveled extensively through Parwan province in 2009. During this time, the US Provincial Reconstruction Team Commander for Panjshir province (Senior Airman Ashton L.M. Goodman) and Army 1st Sergeant Blue C. Rowe were killed when an IED blast tore through their convoy in Parwan province, and an accurate artillery barrage killed five US military personnel at Bagram airbase, the first of its kind since 2006. The following year, on May 19, 2010, a Taliban assault team attempted to storm the US airbase at Bagram, but was beaten back by US forces defending the base.

** Pakistan helped exacerbate regional and ethnic divisions during the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s by referring to the United Front as the “Northern Alliance,” thus painting the United Front as an anti-Pashtun entity and conjuring up notions of a holistically non-Pashtun political movement. In fact, both the Taliban movement and the United Front movement comprised many ethnic groups, with Uzbeks and Tajiks being represented within the Taliban movement and Pashtuns incorporated into the United Front. It should be noted that a key Afghan commander from southern Kandahar province, the legendary Mullah Naqibullah, an Alokozai tribal leader from the Arghandab district, fought for Jammiat-e-Islami (Islamic Society), the Tajik-led tazim headed by former Afghan President Burhunaddin Rabbani.

Terrorists Want To Keep US In Iraq

Multiple attacks rip through Iraq, leaving at least 60 dead

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Dozens killed in Iraq’s bloodiest day this year, posted with vodpod

The attacks, including suicide bombers, car bomb and gunfire, strike from north to south throughout the morning in what appears to be part of a coordinated plan. The bloodshed indicates that Iraq’s security forces may be overwhelmed by insurgents as U.S. soldiers withdraw later this year.

By Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A series of blasts and gunshots ripped across Iraq on Monday, killing at least 60 people in a day of bloodshed that indicated the nation’s security forces may be overwhelmed by insurgents as American soldiers withdraw later this year.

The attacks, including suicide bombers, car explosions and gunfire, struck from north to south throughout the morning in what appeared to be part of a coordinated plan. Soldiers, police officers and market shoppers were targeted in Najaf, Kut, Baghdad, Baqubah and other provinces.

It was one of the most vicious days in months and struck in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. The deadliest attack was in Kut, where an explosion whirled through a marketplace. As onlookers gathered minutes later, a car bomb detonated, killing at least 33 people and injuring 77, according to a security official.

In Diyala province, a series of car bombs and shootings left 14 people dead in a region known for Al Qaeda fighters. In Najaf, a suicide bomber detonated and five minutes later a parked car exploded near a police building, killing two police officers and four civilians. Five security officers and a counterterrorism chief were killed in suicide bombings in Tikrit.

Gunfire and explosions echoed through the capital. A car bomb exploded near a motorcade carrying an official from the Higher Education Ministry, killing one passerby and wounding seven police and civilians. Al Arabiya TV reported that a curfew had been imposed on several regions.

“The blame is on the American troops. They want to show the weakness of the Iraqi security forces,” said Ali Sabih, owner of a food shop in Baghdad. “Iraqi troops are weak and they’ll need more years before they’re ready to protect the country.”

The attacks came as the Iraqi government has said it would negotiate with Washington about retaining some of the nearly 50,000 U.S. troops in the country after a planned U.S. withdrawal this year.