- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

Iraqi efforts to take over security in major cities from U.S. troops faltered Wednesday in a cascade of suicide bombings that bloodied Baghdad and forced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reconsider the security posture of his military and police.

The attackers caused the greatest damage directly in front of the Foreign Ministry, zeroing in on a site where Iraq forces dismantled a joint U.S.-Iraqi security checkpoint one week before American combat forces exited Iraqi cities June 30.

The roughly half-dozen high-profile attacks Wednesday killed 95 people and injured more than 400, according to wire service stories and other reports from the region. It was the deadliest day of bombings since Feb. 1, 2008, when two suicide attackers killed 109 people in Baghdad markets.

Baghdad’s security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said on state television that the failure of police and the military to prevent the attacks “is considered a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame.”

Ten Baghdad security officials had been detained pending an investigation into security breaches, Gen. al-Moussawi’s office told Reuters news agency.

Mr. al-Maliki said the Iraqi government would reassess security measures in the country. It was the first official acknowledgment that the government may have moved too quickly to remove security barriers and ease other security measures at the end of June.

“The criminal acts that took place today require us to re-evaluate our plans and security mechanisms in order to confront the terrorist challenges and to increase cooperation between security forces and the Iraqi people,” said Mr. al-Maliki, who had hailed the U.S. pullout from the cities as Iraq’s “Sovereignty Day.”

He said an alliance of al Qaeda in Iraq and Saddam Hussein loyalists was behind the attacks, and that the government had placed Iraq’s army and police forces on high alert. Iraqi satellite stations broadcast footage from inside the al-Rashid Hotel, which was shaken by one of the blasts while a politician was speaking. The speaker immediately blamed the Ba’athists.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Shawn Turner said the attacks were “certainly tragic to the Iraqi people and their families” but that the Obama administration was “still looking at this from a big-picture perspective. Nationwide the attacks remain at their lowest level since 2004.”

He said Mr. al-Maliki’s statements reflect an Iraqi security process that “is an issue for the Iraqi government and that has no input from the United States.”

The wave of attacks, which began with near simultaneous explosions at the Finance and Foreign ministries, marked the sixth anniversary of the 2003 bombing that destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing Sergio De Mello, the veteran U.N. diplomat sent to Iraq to oversee a U.N. mission that folded soon after the attack.

The Associated Press quoted hospital officials saying 28 people were killed and 117 injured at the Finance Ministry. The Foreign Ministry blast, the worst of the day, killed 59 and injured about 250. Reuters reported a total of at least six bombs.

Nibras Kazimi, an Iraq specialist at the Hudson Institute who was in Iraq in June and most of July, said Iraqi forces had acted about a week before the June 30 U.S. withdrawal to remove a checkpoint that had blocked access to about 300 yards of the street across from the Foreign Ministry.

“They removed the barrier and opened a stretch of highway,” he said. “It was a signal that the Iraqi government was moving from prevention to pre-emption, meaning attacks would be thwarted by intelligence and not checkpoints and … barriers.”

Despite their reduced presence in Baghdad, U.S. forces provided medical assistance to the injured and intelligence to help guide rescue crews and specialists to clear areas of other potential bombs.

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