- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida’s umbrella group in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for coordinated Baghdad bombings this week that killed 127 people and wounded more than 500, warning of more strikes to come against the Iraqi government.

The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, said in a statement posted on the Internet that the attacks in the Iraqi capital targeted the “bastions of evil and dens of apostates.”

It also warned the group is “determined to uproot the pillars of this government” in Iraq and said “the list of targets has no end.” The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used for militant messaging.

The blasts Tuesday were the third major strike against government sites in the Iraqi capital since August, raising serious questions about the abilities of Iraqi security forces ahead of next’s year national elections and the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

Al-Qaida’s claim gave renewed emphasis to U.S. military warnings that insurgents would likely continue high-profile attacks in an attempt to destabilize the Iraqi government in advance of the March 7 parliamentary elections.

The claim of responsibility came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was to face questions from lawmakers during a special session in parliament, where legislators have demanded answers over security lapses that allowed the attacks.

It appeared, though, that al-Maliki’s top security chiefs would stay away. The prime minister arrived at the parliament Thursday without his interior and defense ministers, despite calls by lawmakers they appear as well to answer questions. The ministers have previously refused to attend two other sessions called after bombings on Aug. 19 and Oct. 25. More than 250 were killed in those attacks.

Lawmakers were scheduled to hold the special session behind close doors with al-Maliki, who met first with the parliament speaker.

Al-Maliki signaled the beginning of a possible security shake up late Wednesday after replacing the military chief in charge of Baghdad security.

It was unclear whether the prime minister would announce any more changes in the leadership, although he has said Iraq’s security strategies would be reviewed and further possible changes made.

Iraq has claimed al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party operating from Syria were behind the massive strikes in August and October, as well as the most recent bombings. Relations between the two countries soured after Baghdad accused Syria of harboring senior Baathists who masterminded the attacks. Syria has denied it.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the validity of the al-Qaida claim.

But the U.S. has said the August and October strikes bore the signature of al-Qaida, known for suicide and vehicle-rigged bombings designed to inflict huge casualties that have tried to fuel sectarian tensions and push the country back to the Sunni-Shiite violence of 2006 and 2007 that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

The three massive strikes in the Iraqi capital have differed from previous attacks because they hit government symbols and appeared aimed at having a far-reaching political impact, further undermining the government.

Al-Qaida also claimed responsibility Thursday in a separate Internet posting for last week’s killing of Ahmed Subhi al-Fahal, known by al-Qaida and the American military as one of central Iraq’s top counter-terror officials.

Al-Fahal, a lieutenant colonel in the Salahuddin provincial police force, was killed Dec. 3 in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

The posting said an Iraqi martyrdom seeker “strapped with his explosive belt and went looking for his prey and after long waiting and patience, his eyes met the criminal faces” and detonated his explosives among them killing him and four other officers with him.

Associated Press Writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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