Eleven senior officials arrested after bomb carnage

Eleven senior security officials have been arrested after the Iraqi government admitted lax security at checkpoints had allowed two huge truck bombings to kill almost 100 people in Baghdad.


AFP - Iraq arrested 11 senior security officers on Thursday as public anger mounted after the government admitted that negligence at checkpoints led to 95 people being killed in two massive truck bombings.

The police, army and intelligence chiefs detained are being questioned over security failings that culminated in the attacks, just minutes apart outside the ministries of finance and foreign affairs, which also left 600 wounded.

Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi Army's Baghdad operations, said regulations prohibit large trucks such as those that exploded from coming close to central Baghdad, where the two ministries are located.

"An investigation has been launched into how these trucks got into the area," he said.

The admission came after Wednesday's attacks, the country's worst day of violence in 18 months, prompted outrage among Iraqis at how the bombers had been able to commit such atrocities.

"How can they allow a truck to pass through this important street, near this important ministry?" asked a distraught foreign ministry worker, carrying his clothes in a bag as he started to search for a new home because the doors and windows of his apartment had been destroyed.

"This can't be done even in Afghanistan, or Africa," the man, in his 40s, told AFP.

"The high officials and security authorities are responsible for Wednesday's attacks. Such bombings will continue as long as they are still in their posts," he added.

Atta on Thursday announced new security measures, including an increased troop presence on the ground and tougher searches at checkpoints, after a pledge by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to overhaul security measures.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP that Wednesday had seen "some serious, serious security breaches," and that while he could not say who was behind the attacks, their timings were "archetypal of Al-Qaeda."

An interior ministry official said the death toll from the truck bombings had not risen overnight.

Despite Thursday's heightened state of alert, two people were killed and 10 wounded by a bicycle bomb in a market in the largely commercial al-Rasheed street in central Baghdad, security and medical officials said.

Elsewhere, two Kurdish men were killed and two others wounded when gunmen attacked a political party's offices overnight in the disputed northern Iraqi province of Diyala, security and medical officials said.

Two people were killed and 45 wounded when five mortar rounds exploded in a residential area of Musayyib, 55 kilometres (34 miles) south of Baghdad, medics said.

And at Mahawil 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital two more people were killed and 22 were wounded when a market was targeted with two bombs, the local hospital said.

The latest violence comes just ahead of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and less than two months after US troops withdrew from towns and cities in the conflict-torn country.

Maliki aide Ali Musawi told AFP that Wednesday's truck bombs would not derail the government's quest to restore long-term stability to Iraq.

"They are trying to undermine all of Maliki's successes and reduce his popularity," said Musawi, but "the gains which we achieved are greater than anything they are trying to do."

Analysts, however, said the attacks had shattered attempts by Maliki to portray himself as a guardian of security ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections in January 2010.

"Maliki is clearly the man who wanted to be the symbol of increasing security and security capabilities, and that is clearly not the case," International Crisis Group analyst Loulouwa al-Rachid said.

"If this trend (of violence) continues, yes, definitely it's going to weaken Maliki. Practically, it will endanger the whole process. How can you run elections if security is an issue?"

The international community, led by the UN security council, condemned the blasts, which came on the sixth anniversary of a bombing on the UN compound in Baghdad that killed special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

The White House described Wednesday's bombings as "senseless violence," but the Pentagon noted that they would not affect the US military's plans to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

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