By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 21, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 20 -- The Iraqi government on Thursday announced the detention of 11 army and police commanders, accusing them of negligence in Wednesday's massive bombings targeting government buildings in Baghdad.
The early morning explosions outside the Foreign and Finance ministries killed nearly 100 people and wounded about 500.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, apparently aware of the likely political fallout of the coordinated attacks, which are certain to paralyze work at the two key ministries for weeks, called an emergency security meeting late Wednesday.
Maliki promised "swift resolutions and procedures" to derail terrorist plots ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 16, according to a statement posted on the government's Web site.
The speed and tone of the government's response were in striking contrast to weeks of rosy pronouncements about the security situation and the readiness of Iraq's security forces.
"He was quick to throw his own security services under the bus," said a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the matter on the record.
Maliki blamed the attacks on Sunni extremists who had belonged to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The bombings occurred a day after the prime minister asked his Syrian counterpart during a meeting in Damascus to hand over Baath members whom Baghdad suspects of orchestrating violence in Iraq.
Theories about the likely motives and culprits behind the bloodshed abounded Thursday as mourners began burying the dead. When asked directly, Iraqis were circumspect, blaming "the terrorists." In private conversations, though, some blamed neighboring countries, while others suggested that the attacks were motivated by political rivalries.
Sunni lawmaker Omar al-Jubouri said the bombings were probably intended to weaken Maliki's political standing at a time when politicians are scrambling to form coalitions ahead of the elections.
Maliki appears torn between allying himself with the main Shiite parties, which have not yet backed his bid to become prime minister again, and banding together with Sunni leaders and perhaps Kurds in a cross-sectarian national list.
"Definitely what happened today was a political message," Jubouri said. "These struggles have consequences."
Omar Abdel Sattar, another Sunni lawmaker, said he worried that further sensational attacks could widen sectarian rifts and exacerbate tension between Sunnis and Shiites.
"If this phenomenon continues, we will witness a disaster," he said.
The streets of Baghdad were uncharacteristically deserted Thursday, as residents appeared to choose not to venture outside unnecessarily.
Their concerns were warranted. Two people were killed in a motorcycle bombing in Baghdad, and at least four were killed in two roadside bombings in Babil province, south of the capital.
Residents were quick to criticize the security forces.
"I lost my faith in them a long time ago," said Baghdad shopkeeper Amar Abdul Ruda, 26.
Special correspondents Zaid Sabah, Qais Mizher and Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.