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Iraq officials urge change after bombs

By Khalid al-Ansary
/ Source: Reuters

By Khalid al-Ansary

Senior Iraqi officials called on Friday for a thorough review of their security forces, improved intelligence gathering and tougher treatment of terrorism suspects and detainees after massive truck bombings in Baghdad.

Wednesday's blasts killed 95 people and wounded more than 1,000 in Iraq's deadliest day this year. The bombs targeted what should have been among the most heavily guarded sites -- federal ministries -- and shattered public confidence in Iraqi forces.

A number of people allied with ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party were arrested a few hours after the bombings, Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi told state television channel Iraqiya on Friday.

"The initial investigation indicates the former Baath party was responsible for planning and executing these attacks," Moussawi said.

He did not provide details and did not explain why the news was only being released after two days and after intense criticism of the security forces from the public.

Government officials have previously reported the arrest of a suspected al Qaeda "media team" after the bombings.

In a meeting on Friday, the defense and interior ministers and other officials decided on a set of proposals to submit to the Political Council for National Security, whose members include the president and prime minister.

Parliament will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss security issues, lawmakers said.

"I maintain that we need U.S. support for a specific time, until our abilities are complete in intelligence and technical issues," said Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, his statement out of tune with recent Iraqi claims of independence.


Iraq celebrated its sovereignty when U.S. troops withdrew from urban centres in June, thrusting Iraqi forces into the lead role more than six years after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

A series of huge explosions have shaken Iraqi confidence since then, though bomb attacks were also common when U.S. forces were in charge.

One proposal was for a way to "fix the random release of detainees," a reference to thousands of Iraqis released from U.S. detention this year under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact. The plan calls for prisoners to be set free if there is no evidence to convict them in an Iraqi court.

An amnesty law passed last year also led to the release from prison of thousands of mainly Sunni Arab prisoners not convicted of major crimes, a move meant to foster reconciliation between minority Sunnis and the Shi'ite-led government.

"There has been a kind of tolerance ... in the treatment of detainees and the investigation of them, under the pretext of believing in human rights, forgetting the rights of the hundreds of innocent victims...," said deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiya, a Shi'ite politician, who was at the meeting.

Proposals like that could hamper reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi'ites, whose bloody sectarian feud triggered by the invasion has only abated in the last 18 months or so.

Bolani said the government was also rethinking a plan to remove most blast walls from Baghdad within 40 days.

Like others in the Iraqi government, Bolani alluded to meddling by foreign states as a cause of security violations.

Many members of Iraq's Shi'ite leadership have close links to Shi'ite Iran, where some lived in exile during the rule of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military accuses Iran of funding Shi'ite fighters in Iraq.

Sunni states Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria are also accused by some Iraqi officials of supplying cash, fighters or weapons, partly to counter Iranian influence. Iraq's neighbors deny it.

Many members of the public blame intra-Shi'ite disputes or rivalry ahead of a national election next January between Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political groups for the violence.