/ 19 August 2009

Baghdad blasts kill 95, Iraqi security criticised

A series of blasts in Baghdad killed 95 people and wounded 536 in Iraq’s bloodiest day this year, prompting a rare admission of culpability from Iraqi security forces left to cope without United States help.

At least six blasts struck near government ministries and other targets at the heart of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led administration, weeks after US combat troops withdrew from urban centres in June, thrusting Iraq’s security forces into the lead role.

”This operation shows negligence, and is considered a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame,” Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad’s security spokesperson, told Iraqiya state TV.

The government said this month that most of the city’s blast walls would be removed within 40 days, a sign of confidence in its security forces after US combat troops withdrew from urban centres in June, and before elections due in January.

Wednesday’s blasts were a rare example of a coordinated attack on heavily guarded targets.

In one blast, a massive truck bomb close to a security checkpoint leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone blew out the windows of the nearby Foreign Ministry, sending shards of glass through busy offices, killing dozens of people.

”The windows of the Foreign Ministry shattered, slaughtering the people inside. I could see ministry workers, journalists and security guards among the dead,” said a distraught ministry employee who gave her name as Asia.

Security review
The explosion was powerful enough to shatter some windows of Iraq’s Parliament building in the Green Zone. The attacks could undermine confidence in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki before the parliamentary election.

In a statement, Maliki called for a review of security plans, but added that the attacks were aimed at ”raising doubts about our armed forces, which have proven themselves very capable of confronting terrorists”.

Analysts and members of the public disagreed.

”They are meant to convey a message to Iraqis and the world that insurgents are still there and can block the political process,” said analyst Hameed Fadhel of Baghdad University.

”Today’s attacks reveal a major deficiency and weakness of the security forces. They were organised and huge,” he added.

Normally busy Baghdad streets emptied, and the few people still outside poured scorn on Iraq’s security forces.

”I don’t think this is the work of terrorists, I think this is settling of scores by political groups … Iraqi forces are only capable of doing routine things, without efficiency,” said traffic policeman Louay Mohammed.

Labourer Haythem Adil said: ”The security forces don’t provide security, they just cause traffic.”

No group claimed responsibility, but Moussawi said two members of al-Qaeda were arrested when another car bomb was intercepted. Iraqi television later showed a truck loaded with water tankers stuffed with explosives that had been disarmed.

It was unclear if it was the same vehicle in the arrest.

Sunni Islamist groups like al-Qaeda consider Shi’ites heretics, and have been blamed for a series of blasts in the last two months at mostly Shi’ite venues such as mosques both in the capital and in northern Iraq.

Powerful blast
Another truck bomb in Baghdad’s Waziriya district near the Finance Ministry killed at least 28 people and caused widespread destruction, police said. Part of a raised highway near the building collapsed, a Reuters witness said.

”Suddenly a powerful blast shook the building and glass flew … Most employees were wounded by the flying glass and others, including myself, suffered concussion … I awoke with blood all over my face,” said ministry worker Batoul al-Amri.

Iraqi lawmakers and other officials have accused neighbouring states of fomenting violence in Iraq, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. Analysts say that could be a ploy to distract attention from domestic disputes and failings.

Another explosion was close enough to Reuters’ offices in central Baghdad’s Karrada district to burst open windows and doors. Columns of smoke could be seen rising from several sites.

The Baghdad provincial government building came under mortar attack, police said, as did the Salhiya district in central Baghdad, home to army bases and a television station.

At least one suspected mortar landed near the United Nations compound in the Green Zone, startling UN workers marking the sixth anniversary of the destruction of their previous Baghdad headquarters by a truck bomb which killed envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and other staff, UN guards said.

The US military said it had no reports of mortar fire.

In Bayaa, in southern Baghdad, a blast killed two people. — Reuters