Maliki, lawmakers trade accusations

By Ernesto Londoño and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 11, 2009

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi lawmakers on Thursday chastised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his government's failure to prevent the massive bombings that rocked the capital this week, even as Maliki accused parliament of impeding his ability to improve security.

During a closed-door, six-hour exchange, Maliki chided lawmakers for not passing legislation that would fund and legitimize anti-terrorism forces that report directly to him, according to lawmakers.

The prime minister also suggested that the resurgence of powerful bombings could be tied to the release of thousands of inmates who were in U.S. custody.

Maliki's unprecedented appearance before parliament was triggered by four bombings targeting government facilities Tuesday that killed nearly 130 people and wounded more than 500. The coordinated attacks -- the third in recent months -- have undermined confidence in the government and raised fresh questions about security in Iraq as U.S. forces draw down.

The parliamentary session coincided with a surprise visit by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to Baghdad. He and Maliki were supposed to meet, but the prime minister abruptly canceled, saying he was obligated to appear before parliament. They rescheduled and were expected to meet Friday morning before the secretary's departure.

Tuesday's attacks laid bare political fissures that have been widening in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

Lawmakers and some cabinet members, notably, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, one of Maliki's political rivals, called for the disbanding of the Baghdad security command established in January 2007, which, like the anti-terrorism forces, reports directly to the prime minister.

"The security in Baghdad is the responsibility of the Baghdad operations," Bolani said in a televised interview, referring to the army-run security command.

Maliki and Bolani, who lead rival Shiite slates that will run in the elections, are barely on speaking terms, according to Iraqi politicians.

Lawmakers said they have summoned Bolani, who oversees Iraqi police, and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim to appear before parliament Saturday.

Iraqi officials blame a coalition of Sunni insurgent groups known as the Islamic State of Iraq and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party for the recent attacks, which appear to be motivated by a desire to discredit the Shiite-led government in the run-up to the election.

The Islamic State of Iraq, which includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, has asserted responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, as well as others in August and October. Collectively the attacks have killed nearly 385 people and wounded more than 1,000, according to Iraqi police officials.

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