Iraqi security arrests militant network said to be behind April embassy attacks

By Hamid Ahmed, AP
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Iraq arrests network suspected in embassy bombings

BAGHDAD — A senior Iraqi security official said Tuesday forces have dismantled a militant network suspected of sending suicide attackers in bomb-laden cars to strike three embassies in Baghdad in April.

Iraq’s presidential council, meanwhile, issued a rare statement of concern about the two months of post-election wrangling that could be seen as a rebuke to the prime minister’s efforts to contest the vote results.

One of the attackers in the April 4 embassy assaults was arrested after he failed to detonate his vehicle, and under interrogation he gave investigators information that led to the capture on April 14 of more members of the network, said military operations spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi.

The attacks on the German, Iranian and Egyptian embassies killed 46 people.

Since August, insurgents have struck foreign and government targets in Baghdad in large-scale attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives. It is the signature tactic of al-Qaida in Iraq.

In recent months, the government has announced the arrests of senior al-Qaida operatives they say are behind the wave of attacks as well as the killings of its two top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdad and Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

At a news conference Tuesday, the military spokesman showed videotaped confessions of a man he identified as the failed suicide bomber in the embassy attacks, Haitham Ahmed Khalaf, and the network’s alleged ringleader, Mubarak Mohammed Abbas.

Al-Moussawi did not say how many people were arrested in the raid to disrupt the bombing network.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has based his reputation on restoring security to Iraq after years of war and instability, and his popularity was shaken by the string of bombings.

He came out narrowly behind in March 7 parliamentary elections but is aggressively pursuing a number of avenues to hold on to his premiership — moves which have alarmed many of the other parties.

The presidential council expressed worries about the many delays and called for the Supreme Court to approve election results outside Baghdad — which is undergoing a recount demanded by the prime minister — to speed up the process.

The council is made up of the president, a Kurd, as well as the Shiite and Sunni vice presidents and has a largely ceremonial role. It is still influential, however, and in the past has acted as a counterweight to al-Maliki.

It also urged the judiciary to maintain its neutrality, following accusations that the anonymous three-member election appeals court has been biased in favor of the prime minister.

Several of the court’s decisions may affect the slight two-seat lead held by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s cross-sectarian coalition. The secular Shiite politician complained to Al-Jazeera Tuesday that some of his candidates were being targeted.

“We feel that the Iraqi judicial system is subject to pressure by some in the government and some powerful officials,” he said.

Allawi also noted that the Americans have become worried about the power vacuum in the country amid the election deadlock.

The deadlock may be coming to an end as the prime minister’s political bloc and the other main Shiite faction announced Tuesday that they were moving closer to an alliance which would make them the front-runners to form a new government.

Officials from the prime minister’s State of Law coalition and the religious Iraqi National Alliance were set to meet Tuesday to discuss uniting their factions, including the mechanism for choosing a prime minister, which has been the main stumbling bloc in previous talks.

“The negotiations are positive and the main obstacles have been overcome, but there are still some technical issues to be dealt with,” said Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister al-Maliki.

If combined, the two blocs would have 159 parliamentary seats together, just four seats shy of a majority.

Previous talks to create a pan-Shiite alliance failed because followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who make up a majority of the INA, have long been antagonistic to al-Maliki and are widely believed to object to any deal in which he keeps the prime minister’s chair.

On this point, Amir al-Kanani, a senior Sadrist official, said the State of Law had shown some flexibility, although he acknowledged that they had not specifically said they were ready to go with a new prime minister.

Associated Press Writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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