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Iraq's Maliki pledges victory amid criticism

By Khalid al-Ansary
/ Source: Reuters

By Khalid al-Ansary

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki assured Iraq on Saturday that its forces would defeat terrorism despite the year's deadliest bombings, ignoring remarks from a minister that the government had fallen into a false sense of security.

It was Maliki's first public comment since massive truck bombs killed almost 100 people in Baghdad on Wednesday. A few hours earlier, his foreign minister said he suspected police or soldiers might have colluded in the attacks.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari also criticized a decision by Maliki to remove most blast walls from Baghdad's streets, saying it was one cause of the blasts.

Maliki said the perpetrators of the bombs which wrecked the foreign and finance ministries had been captured.

"I want to tell the Iraqi people we are still in an open war against (the terrorists)," he said on state television. "I reassure the Iraqi people that the security forces can keep up the battle and achieve victory despite breaches here and there."

The attacks, carried out by suicide bombers in trucks, shattered a growing sense of stability in Iraq six weeks after U.S. troops pulled out of urban centers and handed responsibility for security to their Iraqi counterparts.

They dealt a severe blow to Maliki as he prepares to contest a national election next January by claiming credit for a sharp fall in overall violence in the past 18 months, and also to public confidence in Iraq's domestic security forces.

The Shi'ite-led government celebrated the U.S. pullout from city centers as a victory over foreign occupation, more than six years after the U.S. invasion. Maliki's plan to remove most blast walls by mid-September was a display of faith in Iraqi forces that critics say has proven premature.

Zebari, an ethnic Kurd, summoned the media earlier in the day to his wrecked ministry where dozens were cut down by flying glass and said he suspected police or soldiers must have helped.

"According to our information, there has even been collaboration between security officers and the murderers and killers," said Zebari, calling for a thorough investigation.

'FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY'

Zebari, who offered no direct evidence for the accusation, said checkpoints and blast walls near the ministry had been removed due to a "false sense" of security. Blast walls were piled up outside the ministry on Saturday in preparation for being reinstalled.

"Things should be named as they are and we should stop making unnecessary optimistic statements. We should tell people the truth. There has been a deterioration in security ... and the coming days may be worse," he said.

Many ordinary Iraqis blame intra-Shi'ite rivalry ahead of the election, or lingering disputes between majority Shi'ites, once dominant Sunnis and minority Kurds, for the bomb blasts.

Security experts cite nonchalance, disorganization and internal rivalries among the Iraqi military, intelligence and police forces as underlying causes for security lapses.

Maliki pledged to purge the police and army of those who were loyal to factions or parties rather than the country.

He reiterated government accusations that al Qaeda and supporters of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's banned Baath party were responsible and said the culprits had been captured.

He also repeated allegations that unnamed countries in the region were fomenting violence in Iraq.

It was difficult to ascertain how much credence to give to the reported detentions. Previous claims of major arrests have not been borne out and officials did not explain why the news was only released after two days and following stiff criticism.