Checkpoints go up in Baghdad as bombing toll hits 155


BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Iraqi government launched a massive
security operation in Baghdad as Iraqis buried their dead Monday, a day after a
pair of suicide attacks against government buildings killed dozens of people
and exposed the fragility of Iraq’s fledgling institutions.

The death toll increased to 155, including about 30
children, some of whom were killed in a bus that was taking them to
kindergarten, Interior Ministry officials said. Hundreds more people were
injured by the blasts, officials said.

Police erected extra checkpoints around the downtown area
housing the Justice Ministry and the provincial government headquarters where
the bombings took place, as the Defense Ministry promised an investigation into
the “security breaches” that had allowed suicide bombers to penetrate
one of the most closely guarded areas in the city.

The bombings came at a time of heightened political friction
over the drafting of a new election law, which is urgently needed if national
elections are to be held as planned in January. Election officials have said
that if there is no law this week, the election may be delayed, which could in
turn delay the expected withdrawal of U.S. troops following the poll.

U.S. military officials, however, said Monday the Pentagon
remains committed to a drawdown plan that calls for reducing the current
117,000 troops in Iraq to 112,000 by the end of the year. The pace of drawdowns
will then speed up substantially after the 2010 elections. Many of the troops
deployed in Iraq may eventually be needed for Afghanistan, officials said.

“We have said from the beginning there would be good
days and bad days. This weekend, we had a bad day,” said Marine Major
Shawn Turner, a Pentagon spokesman. “But there is no indication we are
shifting course in any way in regard to the drawdown.”

U.S. advisers joined Iraqi security forces in raids on
several locations in the western part of the city in search of a man suspected
of leading the network responsible for Sunday’s bombings as well as a pair of
devastating attacks Aug. 19 against the Foreign and Finance Ministries, also in
central Baghdad, a U.S. military statement said. Eight people were arrested,
but it wasn’t clear whether the suspect was among them.

U.S. military officials had not previously indicated that
they had a suspect in the Aug. 19 bombings at the ministries, which were
claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, a group affiliated to al-Qaida in Iraq.

At the time of the bombings, Iraqi authorities trumpeted the
capture of those allegedly responsible and broadcast a videotape of what they
said was a confession by one of the ringleaders of the group. But U.S.
officials privately said they did not give the televised confession much

That a second, similar attack was launched in the same area
only a little over two months later was a major embarrassment for the
government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has built his reputation on
his successes in restoring law and order to Baghdad.

On the streets of Baghdad, several Iraqis said they held
al-Maliki responsible for the security lapses that allowed the bombings to


“First, I blame Maliki. He stands accused,” said
Haitham Mohammed, 26, a street vendor selling cigarettes and snacks along the
Tigris River. “That area is close to the Green Zone and it should be
fortified and safe. Maliki knows these things, but he doesn’t do anything about

Funerals for some of those killed in the Sunday attacks
along Haifa Street turned unruly when mourners began chanting anti-government
slogans, an Interior Ministry official said. Twenty people were detained, but
they were later released.

Iraqi officials said the Sunday attacks bore all the
hallmarks of the Aug. 19 bombings. The first bomb, at Iraq’s Justice Ministry,
comprised 2,200 pounds of explosives packed into a truck, while the second,
outside Baghdad’s provincial administration, consisted of around 1,500 pounds
of explosives , officials said.

According to Baghdad’s provincial governor, Saleh Abdul
Razzak, surveillance camera footage showed a white truck exploding in front of
the Justice Ministry. The truck was stolen from the water and sanitation
department of the city of Fallujah, once a stronghold for the Sunni extremist
insurgency in Iraq, he said.

Al-Maliki’s government has called for the creation of an
international tribunal to investigate allegations that Syria is responsible for
harboring the militants belonging both to al-Qaida in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s
Baath Party believed responsible for the attacks. Abbas Bayati, a member of
al-Maliki’s bloc in parliament, said an international tribunal is now more
necessary than ever.

“We don’t want these terrorist attacks to be ammunition
for political disputes. The Sunnis accuse Iran, and the Shiites accuse
Syria,” he said. “This is not good. We should deal with facts.”

Many ordinary Iraqis suspect rivalries between their
political parties are to blame, as Iraq heads toward the crucial national

Iraq’s three-member presidency council, headed by President
Jalal Talabani, met Monday with al-Maliki and Parliament Speaker Ayad Samarrai,
and is expected to present a proposal for a new election law to parliament
today, legislators said.

Sunni parliamentarian Dhafir Ani said he believed an
agreement was near.

“The terrorist attacks (Sunday) gave us a strong
impetus to reach an agreement,” he said, “so that the terrorists will
be denied the opportunity to take advantage of political disputes and create
more chaos.”

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.