Iraqis vented their anger on Thursday after 95 people were killed in a wave of bombings across Baghdad, prompting a rare admission of culpability from Iraqi security forces struggling to cope without U.S. help.
Wednesday's explosions struck at the heart of Iraqi state power, close to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone complex, devastating the finance and foreign ministries nearby. The scale of the security lapses fostered political conspiracy theories. Some Iraqis also blamed political infighting as parliamentary elections near.
The coordinated attack followed the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from urban centers on June 30, thrusting Iraq's security forces into the lead role.
"We must face the facts. We must admit our mistakes, just as we celebrate our victories," Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told a group of U.S. and Iraqi military officials on Wednesday.
His comments echoed earlier remarks by Baghdad's security spokesman, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi.
"This operation shows negligence, and is considered a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame," al-Moussawi told Iraqiya state television.
His office said 10 Baghdad security officials had been detained pending an investigation into security breaches.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the bomb attacks were a "vengeful response" by al-Qaida to the government's plans to remove most of the city's concrete barriers within 40 days, an effort to restore normal life to city streets.
That order was seen as a sign of faith in its troops and police before a national election in January. But Wednesday's coordinated attacks on heavily guarded targets shattered a growing sense of optimism about Iraq's stability and could undermine confidence in al-Maliki.
Al-Maliki called an emergency meeting to re-evaluate the defense of Baghdad. He said in a statement that the attacks were aimed at "raising doubts about our armed forces, which have proven themselves very capable of confronting terrorists."
Analysts and members of the public disagreed.
"Today's attacks reveal a major deficiency and weakness of the security forces. They were organized and huge," said analyst Hameed Fadhel of Baghdad University.
Life in Baghdad on Thursday was far from normal. Baghdad's normally busy streets emptied, and the few people still outside poured scorn on the security forces.
"The reason for the blasts was political infighting, and the Iraqi people are the victims," said shopper Munther al-Lamy at a deserted downtown market that is normally a sea of people.
"Security forces at these checkpoints were loyal to particular parties, which is why they let the attacks happen."
'People are scared'
"You can tell people are scared by looking at the market. Only the shopkeepers are here," said store owner Saadeq Jaafar.
Al-Maliki is expected to try to seek a new mandate in parliamentary elections in January by claiming credit for improved security.
"These explosions are aimed at toppling al-Maliki's government. They are the games of political parties, flexing their muscles to show they are the strongest," said shopper Mudher Hameed.
Iraqis had been growing optimistic after the sectarian bloodshed that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion abated in the last 18 months, but for some, Wednesday turned back the clock.
"My fear now is the same I had two years ago. And I think the coming days will be worse, because the elections are life or death for these political parties," said shopkeeper Taha Ahmed.
The Shiite Muslim-led government blamed die-hard followers of Saddam Hussein's Baath party or al-Qaida, as well as unnamed "foreign powers" — an allusion to neighboring states.
But Iraqis in the street seemed inclined to blame intra-Shiite rivalries, or tensions between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties and factions ahead of the polls.
"After each explosion there are ready excuses, 'Baathists, Saddamists and al-Qaida'," said Ahmed.
The government has been trying to promote a sense of normalcy and a return of sovereignty after years of U.S. occupation, but that shattered after the blasts.
"The security forces don't provide security, they just cause traffic," laborer Haythem Adil said.
Calls for the return of U.S. troops to Iraqi towns and cities are especially likely to embarrass the government.
"I think U.S. forces will come back to towns and cities, and I wish they would come, because Iraqi forces can't protect the people," said shopper Mazen Zeki.
Iraqi security officials ruled that out.
Others in the market said they were now going to hunker down till at least after the parliamentary elections, long touted as a key milestone in Iraq's fledgling democracy, but now considered a major threat to life and limb.
"I'm not afraid for myself, but for my children. I've told my son not to go to college for fear of the blasts until the elections are over or until there's stability," said retiree Jamal al-Safaa.
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