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Maliki, lawmakers trade accusations

By Ernesto Londoño and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 11, 2009; A12

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.

In a statement issued Wednesday on the Internet and posted outside mosques, the Islamic State of Iraq vowed to continue striking at the government.

"The list of targets will grow," the group said, describing those targets as "strongholds of evil and nests of infidelity."

The latest attacks prompted Maliki to replace the army commander of the Baghdad security command, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, on Wednesday. Qanbar was transferred to another top job.

Maliki, who is under increasing criticism, has appealed for unity.

"The enemies have closed their ranks and united despite their differences," he said in a televised speech Wednesday. "It is imperative that we do the same."

Gates flew to Baghdad directly from Kabul, where he had spent three days meeting with commanders to discuss the administration's recently announced plan to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Before departing for Baghdad, Gates told Afghan military officials that theirs was a relationship "forged in blood."

He said that even though some U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011, in accordance with President Obama's strategy, a "large number" will remain for "some period beyond that."

U.S. defense officials insist that the rash of bombings in Iraq will not slow the drawdown of troops. The current force level, 115,000, is expected to decrease to 50,000 by August.

Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, the No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq, told reporters traveling with Gates that this week's attacks exposed "vulnerabilities" in Iraq's security forces. But he said: "It would be tough for any government in any country to prevent these kinds of attacks."

Tuesday's bombs exploded near education facilities, judicial complexes and other targets. Similar attacks in August and October targeted the Foreign, Finance and Justice ministries, among other key government buildings.

U.S. officials said the bombings indicate that insurgents are being forced to husband resources for a few large-scale attacks in an attempt to stay relevant. They also noted that two of the four bombs Tuesday apparently detonated at checkpoints, before reaching their intended targets.

Special correspondents Qais Mizher, K.I. Ibrahim and Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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