Baghdad security shakeup possible after bombings

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 21, 2009 

BAGHDAD — Baghdad's mix of overlapping security agencies with murky authorities could be in line for a major makeover due to this week's deadly bombings at Iraq's Foreign and Finance ministries.

Parliament members are calling for the resignations of several security ministers, moves that could take place within the next week.

About 50 lawmakers grilled the heads of Iraq's security departments Friday, seeking answers for how insurgents managed to place trucks loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives next to the ministries Wednesday, killing 95 people and wounding more than 1,200.

The lawmakers didn't get the answers they sought. Some blame terrorist groups such as al Qaida in Iraq. Others talk about foreign powers meddling in Iraqi affairs, naming Syria and Iran as suppliers of deadly weapons.

"The explosions were very well planned. The attackers behind them must have had a very large sum of money," said Fawzi Akram, a parliament member from the Sadrist party who took part in Friday's meeting. "We have to study this to prevent it from happening again."

The attacks halted a campaign to open Baghdad's streets by removing the blast walls that had been in place since 2003 to cordon off parts of the city from sectarian killers. Some of the walls that had been removed could be replaced in the weeks ahead, said Alaa Makki, a Sunni Muslim parliament member.

"It was really early, unstudied and unsuitable," Makki said. "We still need the walls."

Parliament members are demanding to know who called for removing the walls around the Foreign Ministry this summer. The walls probably would have been a barrier to the truck bomb that exploded in front of the building. It's not yet clear who made the call.

Lawmakers say that the patchwork of police, military, militias and guards who protect the city creates an environment in which no one is responsible for the public's safety. The arrangements developed as much to pacify sectarian militias as to create an effective defense against insurgents.

"There are so many security departments, and there is no common strategy for any of them," said Azhaar Samarrai, a Sunni lawmaker who attended the meeting with security chiefs. "When something goes wrong, the responsibility is lost."

Baghdad has outposts governed by the Federal Police, which answers to the Ministry of Interior. The Iraqi army in the city reports to the Ministry of Defense.

The Baghdad Operations Center is supposed to oversee the police and army in providing security plans. The International Zone, the four-square-mile area that houses parliament and other key government buildings, has its own police force.

The leaders of all those organizations are under parliament's scrutiny, and could be deposed depending on the outcome of a discussion led by a security council that consists of Iraq's presidency and the leaders of political blocs. That committee is expected to meet within a week.

"Deposing leaders is a process. If it is required, there must be an investigation," Defense Minister Abdul Qadir al Obeidi said.

The scattered authorities of Baghdad's security arrangements made sense when the Iraqi government was trying to pacify armed militias by providing jobs that would allow people to protect their own neighborhoods.

Those quasi-political hires today make a case of dual loyalties, Samarrai said, reflecting a suspicion that someone within Iraq's security forces helped carry out the attacks or at least looked the other way.

Iraqi authorities arrested 11 police and military officers earlier this week in an investigation into the attacks. They aren't considered suspects, Samarrai said.

Parliament is expected to convene an emergency session next week, giving members who are vacationing abroad time to return.

Sheikh Khalid al Attiyah, parliament's first deputy speaker, led Friday's review. He said the focus over the next few weeks would be to improve security procedures, review standards for the release of prisoners who've been accused of terrorism and hold accountable any officers who should have prevented the bombings.

"When the people who are negligent get their just punishment, they will be an example for the others," Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani said.

(Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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