Middle East
Iraqi PM condemns sectarianism
Nouri al-Maliki blames recent deadly bombings that killed 127 on political discord.
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2009 21:07 GMT

Prime minister al-Maliki is under pressure after five attacks rocked Baghdad on Tuesday [AFP] 

The Iraqi prime minister has blamed recent bombings on political discord and a fractured society, saying that disputes between political groups are putting the nation's security at risk.

In a parliamentary questioning on Thursday, two days after co-ordinated attacks killed 127 people in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki said the security forces had to be depoliticised.

"All of the recent crime is because of political and sectarian differences", al-Maliki was quoted by a parliamentarian as saying.

"I call on parliament to issue a decision to purify the security services from anyone who belongs to any political party, including my party".

'Huge anger'

At least 127 people were killed and around 500 wounded in five co-ordinated attacks that targeted government institutions across the Iraqi capital on Tuesday.

Falah Shanshal, the chair of the justice committee, told the AFP news agency: "There is huge anger in parliament because of the security violations.

"We want to know who was negligent in order to punish them and replace them with someone else. Today's session is to understand the failures, to stop the security violations and to find a solution because the blood of Iraqis is being shed every day."

Samira al-Mussawi, a Shia parliamentarian present in the closed-door session, told the news agency AFP that al-Maliki also accused rival groups of blocking the appointment of a new intelligence chief.

"The intelligence services cannot appoint any chief because there is no political consensus on it," the prime minister reportedly said.

"Every party wants to be in charge of this service ... This security organisation is handicapped because there is no consensus."

The post has been vacant since Major General Abdullah Sherwani resigned after deadly twin bombings struck the foreign and finance ministries in Baghdad in August.

Gates visit

Meanwhile on Thursday, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, arrived in Baghdad for a surprise visit.

He was offering "whatever assistance the US military can provide the Iraqis as they
deal with the aftermath of this attack," Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

According to Morrell, Gates told the presidency council, made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies: "The bombings are a tragic reminder it's not over yet. There is still work to be done. This fight has to be carried out on a continuing basis."

In video

The US says despite the violence Iraqi leaders are moving the country in the right direction

Gates was also due to meet al-Maliki and US military commanders.

In the wake of Tuesday's attacks, al-Maliki has reshuffled the leadership of the country's security forces.

Lieutenant-General Abboud Qanbar, the head of Baghdad security, and Lieutenant-General Ahmed Hashem Awoudeh, the deputy army chief of staff, were ordered to swap positions.

An al-Qaeda group in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to the the US-based Search for International Terrorist Entities (Site) intelligence group.

The Islamic State of Iraq issued a statement on an extremist web forum saying it carried out the string of car bombings, Site reported.

"The list of targets will not end, with permission from Allah, until the flag of monotheism is raised once against on the land of Baghdad and the sharia of Allah rules the land and the worshippers," the statement, posted on Wednesday, said.

March elections

Tuesday's attacks came just as it was announced that national elections would be held in March.

Al-Maliki, who has been running for re-election on a platform of improved security, is facing mounting public anger over the attacks and a lack of response could cost him and his party votes.

Violence across Iraq had dropped dramatically in November, with the 122 deaths recorded being the fewest since the 2003 invasion.

But the Iraqi government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run-up to the March election.

While the latest attacks have underlined concerns over the readiness of Iraqi forces to handle security alone when US troops leave, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said they will not derail plans to begin withdrawing US troops from Iraq next year.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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