BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki Wednesday removed the chief military official responsible for security in the capital and prepared for a public grilling about security lapses after five car bombs killed 127 people in Baghdad a day earlier.
The bombings also wounded nearly 450 and damaged financial, judicial and educational institutions. Iraq is bracing for more violence in the lead-up to elections, now slated for early March. Seven people died in Baghdad Wednesday in three incidents, including two involving bombs placed inside buses, police said.
In a nationally televised speech, Maliki asked weary Iraqis "for more patience and steadfastness and to continue the path of unity, confrontation and challenge."
He also warned political opponents against seeking electoral advantage in Tuesday's bloody events.
Lawmakers summoned Maliki's interior minister, Jawad al Bolani, to a special session of parliament Thursday, and Maliki himself may attend the meeting along with the session, and top defense officials, government officials said.
"These catastrophes should not be used to ... provoke disagreements under political names or electoral propaganda because if this structure falls, it will fall over the head of everyone," Maliki said. "The election will be respected and the electoral rhetoric will be respected, but with one condition: not to touch sacred things and red lines."
Maliki's office announced that he'd replaced the head of the army's Baghdad Operations command, responsible for the city's security, in what could be the start of a major revamping of security services.
As with earlier bombings in August and October, the prime minister blamed Iraq's Arab neighbors for supporting the terrorists. A senior Interior Ministry official, Maj. Gen. Jihad al Jabiri, said the attacks were the work of Sunni Muslim extremists and the suicide vehicles used in some of the bombings were driven by non-Iraqi Arabs. He offered no evidence, however.
The government also found itself forced to defend the reliability of hand-held explosive detectors that Iraqi security personnel use to scan vehicles at nearly 1,500 checkpoints across Baghdad. Senior U.S. military officers say the devices do little good.
In one of the day's more surreal events, the Interior Ministry's Jabiri held a demonstration for the news media in an attempt to prove the hand-held explosive detection device, known as the ADE 651, works.
Last month, U.S. Maj. Gen. Robert Rowe, a senior officer with the command that trains Iraqi security forces, told reporters that he and Jabiri "do not agree on the technical capability of the device."
"We have not been able to find for our forces an assured, highly probable technological solution" that allows U.S. personnel to detect suicide bombs and vehicles from a distance, Rowe said.
While overall violence in Iraq is down substantially from 2006-2007, the government's inability to protect its citizens is gnawing at Iraq's democracy, and could even cause some Iraqis to support a strongman ruler who would guarantee security.
However, the attacks in August, October and December have not — at least yet — provoked new sectarian strife. The terrorists, analysts say, have switched tactics from trying to spark a sectarian war to striking at government institutions, and their victims are not from a single ethnic or religious group.
The site for Wednesday's demonstration of the electronic device was not one of Baghdad's mean streets, but the genteel Interior Ministry's officers' club. One of many tables covered with red and white tablecloths was set with a bottle of shampoo, some hot sauce, two tubs of cream, a huge plastic jar of pickles and a box of pink tissues.
Iraqi citizens often complain the device hones in on perfume, shampoo and similar items in their vehicles.
A white-gloved officer with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal patch on his uniform walked back and forth with the ADE 651 device, which consists of a black, gun-like grip and a swiveling metal antenna. Nothing happened.
A grenade was placed on the pickle jar, and another on the table. This time, the antenna swiveled toward the table.
Jabiri, chief of the ministry's directorate for combating explosives, said the ADE 651 has detected "hundreds of roadside bombs and car bombs" and any deficiencies were due to training in the device's use.
Jim McCormick, an official of ATSC UK, the British company that makes the devices, called the U.S. general's critique "unfounded."
McCormick, who attended the press conference, said he was disputing those who say the science behind the explosive detector is faulty. "If (you say) it doesn't work, that is one thing," he said. "If you are saying there are limitations to how it's working ... let's address those issues."
(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent. McClatchy special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this article.)
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