BAGHDAD (AP) – The prime minister appealed Wednesday on Iraqis to stand by their security forces, even as angry lawmakers demanded answers and called on top officials to resign following the third massive attack against government sites since summer.
Nouri al-Maliki asked Iraqis for patience and warned against fomenting political divisions following Tuesday’s string of suicide bombings that killed at least 127 people and wounded over 500 in the Iraqi capital.
Iraqi lawmakers, meanwhile, demanded security officials appear before a special parliamentary session due Thursday to answer questions how bombers once again found holes in security in heavily guarded central Baghdad.
“I call on the Iraqi people for more patience and steadfastness,” al-Maliki said in a televised address on state television.
The deadly bombings raised tough questions for al-Maliki about the abilities of Iraq’s security forces ahead of next year’s withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The U.S. military has warned of a possible rise in violence ahead of the March 7 parliamentary elections.
The parliament speaker called on the ministers of defense and interior as well as the commander of Baghdad military operations to appear before the special session, said Omar al-Mashhadani, the speaker’s spokesman. Other security officials have also been asked to appear, he added. Top security officials have been called twice before, and failed to show up, to answer questions in parliament about security lapses, after suicide bombers in August and October killed hundreds in attacks on other government buildings.
This time, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani agreed to attend the session under one condition, that it not be held behind closed doors, according to a statement released by his office. It was not known if other officials would attend.
Al-Maliki also was expected to attend the session, al-Mashhadani said.
The prime minister has so far not sacked any of this top security advisers, but there have been growing calls for resignations following the most recent attacks. Al-Maliki has been running for re-election on a platform of improved security, and any perceived security failures could cost him as well as his political party at the polls.
The U.S. military has said it will keep the bulk of its 120,000 troops in place in Iraq until after the election. Abbas al-Bayati, the head of parliament’s defense committee, said Iraq must have an emergency plan to deal with any violence ahead of the elections.
“The Iraqi people need convincing answers from the security commanders,” al-Bayati told state run television. “If the security falls apart, then everything will collapse.”
While violence has dramatically declined in Iraq, insurgents have continued with some regularity to launch attacks against security forces and civilians.
On Wednesday, there were scattered reports of violence across the capital.
A bomb attached to a minibus exploded in northern Baghdad, killing two and injuring 11, an Iraqi army official said. A bomb hidden in a garbage heap killed two street sweepers and injured three passers-by in northern Baghdad, while an hour later in the same neighborhood a gunman killed a police officer at a checkpoint, police said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. Meanwhile, rescue operations were halted Wednesday around the labor and finance ministries as well as the court complex after crews finished looking through debris, said police Col. Safaa Saadi Jawad, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s rescue operations.
“If we receive reports from families of missing people, we will look some more,” he said.
Funerals were under way for bombing victims. Some families carried black flag-draped coffins through the streets, while others waited at the morgue to claim bodies authorities were still working to identify.