Iraq holds senior officers after day of carnage

Iraq detained 10 senior security officers and tightened security across Baghdad on Thursday after two truck bombs in the capital killed 95 people in the country’s worst day of violence in 18 months.

The new measures, which included an increased troop presence on the ground and tougher searches at checkpoints, followed a pledge by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to overhaul the country’s security and a senior minister acknowledged “serious security breaches”.

Despite the heightened state of alert, two people were killed and 10 wounded early on Thursday by a bicycle bomb in a market in the largely commercial al-Rasheed street in central Baghdad, security and medical officials said.

“An investigation has been launched into how these trucks got into the area,” said Major General Qassim Atta, spokesperson for the Iraqi Army’s Baghdad operations.

He added that 10 senior officers had been arrested and were being questioned over security failures that led to the bombings, just minutes apart, outside the ministries of finance and foreign affairs on Wednesday morning which left about 600 injured.

Atta said that security regulations prohibited trucks of the sort that exploded from coming close to the ministries targeted.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Agence France-Presse that there had been “some serious, serious security breaches”, and said that while he couldn’t say who was behind the attacks, their timings were “archetypal of al-Qaeda”.

The attacks came just ahead of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is due to begin on Thursday or Friday, and less than two months after US troops withdrew from towns and cities in the conflict-torn country.

“They [the attackers] tried to send a message that Iraqi forces are not able to maintain security, and they are trying to undermine all of Maliki’s successes and reduce his popularity,” Maliki aide Ali Musawi told Agence France-Presse.

“But they will not be able to do that—the gains which we achieved are greater than anything they are trying to do.”

Analysts, however, said the attacks shattered attempts by Maliki to portray himself as a guardian of security ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections in January 2010.

“Maliki is clearly the man who wanted to be the symbol of increasing security and security capabilities, and that is clearly not the case,” International Crisis Group analyst Loulouwa al-Rachid said.

“If this trend [of violence] continues, yes, definitely it’s going to weaken Maliki. Practically, it will endanger the whole process. How can you run elections if security is an issue?”

The international community, led by the United Nations security council, condemned the blasts, which came on the sixth anniversary of a bombing on the UN compound in Baghdad that killed special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

The White House described the attacks as “senseless violence”, but the Pentagon noted that they would not affect the US military’s plans to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the twin bombings as “cowardly and pointless attacks”, vowing to help fight the scourge of terrorism.

Atta on Wednesday blamed an alliance of Baathists loyal to former dictator Saddam Hussein and religious extremists for the attacks.

He added that security forces had arrested two senior al-Qaeda leaders in western Baghdad, and that a truck carrying one tonne of explosives had been intercepted near a hospital in the centre of the capital.

It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since February 1 2008, when bombs at Baghdad pet markets killed 98 people.

Recent attacks in the capital have appeared to target various ethnic groups in what is seen as a bid to reignite the sectarian violence which engulfed Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

Despite a reduction in violence across Iraq in the past year, attacks on security forces and civilians remain common in Baghdad, the restive northern city of Mosul and in the ethnically divided oil city of Kirkuk.—AFP

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