- 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.

But Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Washington Times that the United States has no plans to stop the troop drawdown that is being overseen by Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Another military official put it more bluntly, speaking to The Times on the condition that he not be identified: “We’ve been asked to leave and now it’s up to the Iraqi government to take care of Iraq security and its people,” the official said.

Mr. Morrell said he thought most of Wednesday’s violence was the work of al Qaeda operatives, who “have continued their efforts to spark sectarian violence” despite having a reduced military capability.

Wednesday’s violence was “terrible and … tragic” but will not succeed, he said. “The Iraqi people are sick of these retaliatory killings that virtually brought the country to its knees in 2006. They’ve shown time and time again that they are not going to take the bait.”

Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, predicted the blasts would force both American and Iraqi military commanders to re-evaluate their security postures.

“We should not make a judgment today on whether this was a lack of checkpoints, a lack of active patrolling or fewer reconnaissance and surveillance assets being used to secure Baghdad,” she said. “We don’t know. It is clear that Iraqi and American commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government need to review the procedures for securing Baghdad.”

Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said violence in Iraq is still at a low level compared with a few years ago, but that ordinary citizens “are outraged at these attacks on Iraq, its people and its future.”

Gen. Odierno and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill issued a joint statement saying that “an attack on a diplomatic facility and all those working for peaceful relations through dialogue and diplomacy is an attack on the entire international community.”

The pair described the assault as “a deliberate attempt to undermine Iraq’s effort to re-integrate itself as a responsible member in the international community.”

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