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Iraqi FM warns of bigger, more powerful attacks

world Updated: Aug 22, 2009 19:15 IST
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Iraq's foreign minister said on Saturday that Iraqis should be prepared for bigger, more powerful attacks to strike the capital in the coming days and urged the government to immediately fix security shortcomings among its forces.

The comments come amid mounting anger by Iraqis over security lapses that led to the bombings, raising questions about the abilities of Iraqi forces to take over security from American troops who withdrew from Iraq's cities nearly two months ago.

"We have to face the truth. There has been an obvious deterioration in the security situation in the past two months," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters during a news conference at the ministry, which was opened on Saturday for tours to journalists and some ministry employees.

"What is coming might be bigger attacks, and the government needs to shoulder its responsibility and deal with the security inefficiencies."

The blasts on Wednesday primarily targeted government buildings, including the foreign and finance ministries, killing at least 101 people and wounding more than 500.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered security tightened and concrete blast walls to remain around potential targets in the aftermath of the bombings, reversing an order earlier this month to remove the walls in Baghdad by mid-September. The decision to remove the blast walls _ a potent reminder of years of strife in the capital _ was seen as a sign of hope that the situation there was improving.

"Regrettably, we accepted the order to remove concrete walls and removal of a joint checkpoint near the ministry," Zebari said. Iraqi security forces on Saturday used a crane to lift concrete blast walls one by one off ten flatbed trucks to build a new security barrier around the Foreign Ministry, adjacent to the fortified Green Zone. The walls at the ministry were among some of the first ordered removed by al-Maliki with the aim of improving traffic flow and making the city more attractive. Inside the ministry, where some walls were stained with blood, some employees kissed and hugged, while asking about the fate of other colleagues. Shattered glass and debris were scattered throughout the building.

Zebari, who toured the damage, said the attacks were so well planned and executed that he would not rule out the possible collaboration of members of Iraq's security forces with attackers. "We will investigate that," he said.

The Iraqi military announced it arrested members of the insurgent cell responsible for the attacks but gave no details about the suspects. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said on Iraqi state television only that both attacks were carried out by suicide bombers.

Zebari said the ministry was investigating how the trucks carrying the bombs were allowed to pass into areas where they are banned from traveling.

He said the prime minister ordered the arrest of officers from several branches of Iraq's security forces as part of an investigation into security lapses that allowed the trucks to park near the ministries.

"What has happened, the number of victims and the destruction of government institutions, is a real national disaster," he said. Zebari said better, stronger security procedures need to be put in place.

An attack at an Iraqi military checkpoint Saturday came in an area in northern Baghdad where Iraqi security forces also have began dismantling concrete blast walls to open major roads. Gunmen killed two soldiers during a drive-by on the checkpoint at about 6 a.m. in Azamiyah, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold, an Iraqi security official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

In northern Iraq, a bomb exploded inside the office of a Mosul district administrator, killing the district chief and two others, said an Iraqi police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.

The violence comes as the US has halted combat operations under a US-Iraq security pact that saw American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities on June 30.

President Barack Obama has ordered all US combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving up to 50,000 US troops in training and advising roles. Under the pact, US forces will withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Iraq's government has not asked for U.S troops to return to the cities to help with security, said Maj. David Shoupe, a US military spokesman.

Shoupe said the military was continuing to provide intelligence and forensic support to the Iraqis as they investigate the bombings.