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Iraq arrests former Baathists in Baghdad bombings

Amid recriminations over the attacks, the government of Nouri Maliki is under pressure to show it can handle security now that U.S. troops have left Iraqi cities.

August 22, 2009|Liz Sly and Saif Hameed

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government said Friday that it had detained members of a network loyal to the former Baath Party of Saddam Hussein in the deadly bombings at two ministries in the heart of Baghdad this week.

The arrests came as recriminations continued to fly over the devastating bombings, which killed nearly 100 people, wounded more than 500 and shattered faith in the ability of the Iraqi security forces to maintain order now that U.S. forces have withdrawn from the cities.

Top lawmakers called for a comprehensive review of the nation's security strategies and for the resignation of key security officials, intensifying pressure on Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government to apprehend those responsible for the attacks.

Speaking on state television, Iraqi army spokesman Maj. Qassem Atta said members of the network had been arrested hours after the attacks Wednesday, and that "initial investigations show the involvement of the dismantled Baathist regime directly in the planning and execution" of the attacks. He declined to provide further details. Previous arrests trumpeted by the government proved to have been based on false assumptions.

The call for a security overhaul came at an acrimonious meeting between top lawmakers and the ministers of Defense, Interior and National Security. Senior lawmakers called for an emergency session of parliament, currently on its summer break, to address the security situation.

"The incident was of a worrying level as it revealed the existence of gaps and weak spots in our security system," Deputy Speaker Khalid Attiya told reporters after the meeting.

There were no calls for U.S. troops to be redeployed in Baghdad, however, and ministers said they still had faith in the Iraqi security forces, despite the weaknesses exposed by the bombings.

Iraqi forces will need intelligence and technical support from U.S. forces for some time, but they are capable of standing alone without help from U.S. combat troops, Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said.

The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. military for intelligence, forensics, surveillance and medical evacuation support since the bombings, all of which the U.S. has continued to provide since June 30, when troops withdrew from the cities, said Maj. David Shoupe, a spokesman in Baghdad.

The support offered since the bombings "mostly focused on forensics of the blast sites and remnants of the car bombs themselves," he said.

On Friday, two people were killed in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Dora when a bomb exploded near a produce market. There was also more violence in the volatile northern city of Mosul, where four Iraqi soldiers were killed by a car bomb that targeted their patrol.

Also, the U.S. military said that four soldiers serving in southern Iraq had been charged with "cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates."

"The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of soldiers in their charge," said Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, a spokesman for forces in the southern city of Basra. "Forcing the soldiers to undergo excessive physical training" was among the abuses the four are alleged to have committed, he said.

NBC reported that the charges were linked to the suicide of a 19-year-old soldier this month. The soldier had been in Iraq only 10 days. The four soldiers facing charges are Staff Sgt. Enoch Chatman of West Covina, Staff Sgt. Bob Clements of Eastland, Texas, Sgt. Jarrett Taylor of Edmond, Okla., and Spc. Daniel Webster of Frankenmuth, Mich.

If convicted, the soldiers could face prison sentences of eight to 25 years. The military did not say when or where the alleged offenses took place.


Hameed is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Raheem Salman contributed to this report.

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