BAGHDAD (AP) – The suicide bombers who blew up explosives-laden trucks outside government buildings in Baghdad may have been aided by members of Iraq’s security forces, the foreign minister said Saturday, even as the government insisted Iraqi forces could still protect the nation.
Anger is mounting over the security lapses that allowed the bombers to drive trucks past checkpoints and position them close to government targets that included the foreign and finance ministries. Wednesday’s attacks killed at least 101 people and wounded more than 500.
The violence has shaken confidence in a government eager to demonstrate that it can take over responsibility for the country’s security from American troops, who withdrew form 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 damaged ministry building, which was opened Saturday for tours to journalists and some ministry employees.
Zebari 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.
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 also warned Iraqis to prepare for more violence.
“What is coming might be bigger attacks, and the government needs to shoulder its responsibility and deal with the security inefficiencies.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in his first televised speech to the nation since the attacks, cautioned against rushing to blame the security forces and undermining national unity.
“I would like to assure the Iraqi people that the security forces are still capable of continuing the battle and achieving more victories despite all the loopholes that took place here and there,” he said in an address to mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
The Iraqi military announced it arrested members of an 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.
The prime minister said he would deal harshly with those responsible for the attacks as well as those whose negligence allowed them to take place. Eleven members of Iraq’s security forces have been arrested on suspicion of negligence, authorities said.
Al-Maliki blamed an alliance of Al Qaeda and supporters of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, who he said aimed to disrupt unity before January’s national elections.
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 used a crane Saturday to lift concrete blast walls one by one off 10 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 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 shooting 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 U.S. has halted combat operations and withdrew troops from Iraqi cities on June 30, as required by a U.S.-Iraq security pact.
President Barack Obama has ordered all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving up to 50,000 U.S. troops in training and advising roles. Under the pact, U.S. 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 U.S. military spokesman. Shoupe said the military was continuing to provide intelligence and forensic support to the Iraqis as they investigate the bombings.