Iraq‘s national police chief outlined plans Sunday for protecting key areas, including the Central Bank and historical sites and - ultimately - the American Embassy, as the Iraqis take over more responsibilities under a recently approved security pact with the United States.
Attacks have continued despite stepped-up security measures and a sharp decline in violence over the past year. That has raised concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to provide security as the Americans prepare to withdraw by the end of 2011.
A bomb hidden in an abandoned store exploded as the mayor of Baqouba was leading a tour through the city center Sunday. The blast wounded the mayor, Abdullah al-Hiali, and 34 other persons, including two TV cameramen, policemen and civilians, according to the provincial security headquarters.
The U.S. military has warned that it expects attacks to rise ahead of Jan. 31 provincial elections, which are expected to redistribute the balance of power among Iraq’s fractured ethnic and sectarian groups.
Lt. Gen. Hussein al-Awadi, the National Police commander, said a battalion of about 500 to 600 officers will be assigned to guard the Central Bank in Baghdad.
The police commando force also will create an agency to provide security for archaeological sites and antiquities, which faced widespread looting in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and have not entirely recovered.
He said a similar directorate has been established to protect embassies and diplomatic missions, which will eventually include the U.S. Embassy.
“We are discussing this matter with them,” he said. “In the near future, protection of [the American Embassy] will be the responsibility of the Iraqi National Police, and the movement of political missions will be under the Iraqi protection of the National Police forces.”
He also said the National Police will work with the Interior Ministry to create a protection force for the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area in central Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government headquarters.
Iraq has signed off on a security pact with the United States that takes effect Jan. 1 and will allow American forces to stay in the country for three more years with stricter oversight from the Iraqi side.
Labid Abbawi, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary, said British and Iraqi negotiators are in talks about a similar agreement to govern British military operations in Iraq. He said he hopes the British agreement, to replace the U.N. mandate now governing their presence, will be signed by the end of the year.
Mr. Abbawi said the British pact might simply be a memorandum of understanding and not subject to parliamentary approval as was the U.S. deal.
Britain has about 4,000 troops in southern Iraq compared with about 150,000 U.S. troops.