Iraq bombings threaten Maliki government

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BAGHDAD | A massive terrorist attack on government buildings in central Baghdad - the third since August - left at least 127 people dead, hundreds wounded and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political future in doubt.

The attack sent parliament into emergency session, where calls for an investigation opened a rift within Mr. al-Maliki’s Shi’ite bloc, which dominates the legislature.

Hassan Shamari of the Shi’ite Fadila Party called for the force known as the “Baghdad Brigade” to be dissolved.

The brigade reports directly to Mr. al-Maliki, a leader of the rival Shi’ite Dawa Party. Its functions often overlap with the military and other security services.

In Tuesday’s attack, most casualties came from three vehicle bombs that exploded shortly after a government council set a date for nationwide elections in early March.

Shortly before 10:30 a.m., one payload detonated at the Finance Ministry’s new headquarters, which replaced a building blown up in August.

A second bomb hit the Labor Ministry, while a third heavily damaged an academy where judges are trained.

Officials said at least two of the three explosions were suicide attacks.

Earlier in the day, two bombings hit other Baghdad neighborhoods.

As rescuers struggled to reach victims beneath piles of twisted steel and concrete, the U.S., United Nations, Arab League and others were quick to condemn the attack.

Mr. al-Maliki blamed the attack on “foreign elements” and called it a “cowardly” attempt to undermine the elections - slated for March 7.

“This has the touch of al Qaeda and the Ba’athists,” Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Baghdad security operations, told Agence France-Presse.

No one claimed responsibility.

The past five months have been marked by three spectacular attacks in the heart of Baghdad - attacks that belie a decline in overall violence.

An August strike killed more than 100, followed by twin bombings in October that killed at least 155. Finance, Justice and Foreign ministries were the primary targets.

The October attack prompted the arrests of dozens of security officials blamed for letting terrorists drive vehicle bombs through multiple checkpoints and roadblocks to reach their targets.

Tuesday’s attack appeared to follow a similar pattern.

Members of the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq, a third Shi’ite party, called for the interior minister and military officials to come before the parliament as part of an official inquiry.

Nouri al Badran, a former interior minister in 2003 and 2004 under the Coalition Provisional Authority, said Iraq was beset by a competition among intelligence services, its military and the Interior Ministry.

“There is no real accountability and no effective oversight,” he said. “All these different services are competing with each other.”

Mohammed Shareef Ahmed, a Kurdish member of parliament, also blamed Iraq’s security services.

“The parliament today is so angry toward the security services which we feel have failed to prevent these attacks. … We all feel - and all the world feels - that the Iraqi people are fed up of sufferings and something should be done to stop this,” Mr. Ahmed told the Associated Press.

In condemning the attacks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “there are clearly those who are threatened by” Iraq’s election.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the bloodshed “horrendous.”

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill and the top U.S. commander, Gen. Raymond Odierno, issued a joint statement promising to help Iraq’s government “bring to justice those individuals or groups responsible for such murder.”

Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution, said Iraq’s security forces were too compromised to protect the city.

“New democracies need strong, apolitical institutions that the people can count on to stand outside the fray of politics and enforce a disinterested rule of law,” Mr. Pollack said. “Many Iraqis on all sides of the political spectrum fear that their security forces remain both politicized and infiltrated by partisan groups.”

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