- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

BAGHDAD — Security officials foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists at guard posts around Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies as well as the Iraqi government, the interior minister said yesterday.

A senior Defense Ministry official confirmed the plot and said 421 al Qaeda men had been recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, the official said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The disclosure came amid a wave of apparent reprisal slayings, with officials saying police had found the bodies of at least 87 persons killed in execution style over the previous 24 hours.

They included four men shot in the head and hanged from electricity pylons in Sadr City, a teeming Shi’ite slum in which 58 persons died and more than 200 were wounded in car bomb and mortar attacks on food markets over the weekend.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said in an interview that the al Qaeda recruits were one bureaucrat’s signature away from being accepted into an Iraqi army battalion whose job is to control the gates and main squares in the Green Zone. The plot was discovered three weeks ago.

“You can imagine what could happen to a minister or an ambassador while passing through these gates when those terrorists are there,” Mr. Jabr said in his office inside the 2-square-mile maze of concrete blast walls, concertina wire and checkpoints known as the Green Zone.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he had heard about the report but added, “I’ve not received anything definitive.”

“We’ve always known that there are people who’ve tried to infiltrate the various security forces and get close access to places they ought not to be,” he said.

Mr. Jabr confirmed that a number of Defense Ministry officials had been jailed in connection with the plot. The Defense Ministry official said some of them had forged the signature of Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi.

The ministry official said the plot was uncovered by military intelligence and the government’s intelligence service, which said the al Qaeda recruits had planned to take U.S. and British diplomats hostage, then demand the withdrawal of U.S. and British troops.

The Defense Ministry was working to capture the recruits, both men said.

“Most of them were members of the same tribe and came from the same area,” Mr. Jabr said, but he refused to give specifics because of the ongoing operation.

“The 421 were supposed to be in control of the entrances to the Green Zone and internal squares. I mean they were going to be in charge of security in the Green Zone in the future,” Mr. Jabr said.

The minister spoke as officials announced a wave of mass killings, including the discovery of at least 29 bodies stacked in a mass grave in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad. Most were in their underwear.

An abandoned minibus containing 15 bodies was found between two Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said.

At least 40 more bodies were discovered in various parts of Baghdad, including in both Sunni and Shi’ite neighborhoods. Three bodies were found in Mosul.

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