Security forces find huge cache of explosives in Baghdad, impose partial curfew

By Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; A08

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi security forces shut down large portions of the capital Tuesday after arresting at least 25 men and seizing more than 400 pounds of explosives that insurgents allegedly had been planning to use in a major attack.

Iraqis woke up to partial curfews and vehicle bans in their neighborhoods, setting off rumors that a military coup was underway and that a popular Sunni legislator had been assassinated.

But Baghdad law enforcement officials said the curfew was enacted, in part, as a show of force by security personnel. Col. Qassim al-Ameri of the Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraqi police, said officers found the explosives during morning raids. Security officials suspect the explosives may have been part of a plan to launch an attack ahead of parliamentary elections in March.

Although police routinely find explosives in Iraq, Tuesday's find was substantial. Iraqi security forces hailed their discovery of the cache and their ability to shut down parts of the capital, saying their efforts were a testament to the ability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to maintain security.

"It proves that the Baghdad Operations Command can close all of Baghdad's exits when the situation requires it," Ameri said. "Maliki is proving that he controls Baghdad at any minute."

Ameri warned that the Interior Ministry planned similar curfews and vehicle bans in the city in the coming days to preempt any election-related violence.

By Tuesday afternoon, government spokesmen had defused rumors of a coup.

"The government calls on the people to understand these measures, which included preemptive operations, partial curfews and tightening of security measures, all of which are aimed at protecting people's lives," Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said at a news conference.

Since August, a series of high-profile attacks have devastated the capital and killed more than 300 people. Most have targeted government buildings.

Another major attack would have been particularly damaging to members of Maliki's coalition running in parliamentary elections. The coalition's candidates are campaigning on a security platform.

The discovery of the explosives on Tuesday was part of what will be an ongoing security effort to crack down on insurgent hideouts and showcase Maliki's military might, Ameri said.

Violence is expected to escalate in the run-up to the elections. Also Tuesday, a leading member of the Sons of Iraq, a group of U.S.-allied Sunni militiamen, was fatally shot in Babil province south of the capital. Ali Ayed al-Janabi died instantly in the town of Mussayeb. Another member of the group was injured in an attack at his home.

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company