Iraq arrests 61 officials in fatal blasts

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 30, 2009

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi authorities on Thursday announced the arrest of 61 police and army officials responsible for the central Baghdad district where two bombs killed more than 155 people Sunday.

The arrests, like others following security breaches, reflect the Iraqi government's strategy of holding soldiers and law enforcement officials criminally responsible for attacks carried out in their areas.

Eleven of the men were officers and 50 were lower-ranking, said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the Baghdad operational command. Atta did not specify the charges brought against them. In similar arrests recently, officials have cited negligence.

The suicide bombers targeted the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Council building, located in areas that are supposed to be among the capital's most heavily guarded.

The twin attacks, and similar bombings Aug. 19 targeting the Foreign and Finance ministries, have dealt a blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had proclaimed that his government was ready to assume responsibility for security after U.S. troops largely withdrew from Iraqi cities this summer.

The government also announced this week that it would bar TV stations from broadcasting live from bombing scenes. Iraqi and other Arab stations have been airing ghastly footage of the aftermath of Sunday's blasts, the deadliest in Iraq in two years.

Meanwhile, Iraqi lawmakers adjourned for the week, having failed to reach a compromise on an election law. U.N. and U.S. officials are deeply concerned that organizing credible elections -- which, under the constitution, must be held before Jan. 31 -- will be difficult if a law is not passed imminently.

The main stumbling block is the manner in which the elections would be held in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the main flash point in a decades-long dispute between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.

The sides disagree over whether to use old or recent voter rolls. Using current rolls would give the Kurds an edge, because many moved to the contested city after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saddam Hussein forcibly displaced Kurds from Kirkuk and neighboring areas during his regime.

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