Shattered in Baghdad blasts: Iraqi faith in security forces

From street sweepers to Foreign Ministry guards, Iraqis say their countrymen are falling short of their duty to protect them.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Residents and security personnel gather around a crater after a bomb attack outside the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, on Wednesday.
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At the site of the deadliest Baghdad bombing in 18 months, Iraqi faith that their security forces could protect them lay shattered in the wreckage.

Outside the Foreign Ministry in central Baghdad, residents and security people gathered around tangled heaps of the frames of burned cars, some of them still smoldering into the evening.

"Iraqi security forces aren't strong enough – you see the police talking on their cellphones and listening to music," said Harath, a Foreign Ministry guard sitting under the dangling wires of a broken light fixture.

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The ministry had been evacuated just after a truck packed with an estimated ton of explosives detonated, killing 59 people and wounding 150, but eight hours later Fatima Abdullah Sharif was still searching for her daughter Zainab, a ministry employee.

"Have you heard anything about her?" she asked each passerby in an anguished voice. "I've been looking for her since this morning."

Zainab, one of Fatima's three children, had returned temporarily to Baghdad two months ago from her job at the Iraqi consulate in Mexico. "I worked so hard to raise them," sobbed Fatima, explaining that her husband died 12 years ago.

Many of the dead and wounded were ministry officials. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zubari, who was not in Baghdad when the bombs hit, flew back from the Kurdish capital of Arbil and went to hospitals to visit the wounded after landing.

'I would prefer the US troops stay'

The ministry, surrounded by high concrete walls on a busy street, was near a checkpoint that had been dismantled earlier this year. As attacks in Baghdad have decreased, Iraqi authorities eager to show improvement in security and make the city livable again have started removing concrete walls and security checkpoints.

"We all know our security isn't perfect. We saw a big truck in the security camera," said Hawree Talabani, an employee in the IT department at the ministry. Blood seeped through a bandage wrapped around his head. "How can you drive a truck with a ton of explosives up here?"

Across the street, near the blackened branches of trees that caught fire in the explosions, policeman Hameed Eid explained why as he examined the tangled metal that was the remains of his car.

"They removed the checkpoint and we have no scanning devices for explosives," he said. "I would prefer to keep the concrete walls. I would prefer that the American troops stay but the Iraqis and the Iraqi political parties can't agree among themselves about it."

Hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq

Thousands of US combat troops who had patrolled Baghdad with their Iraqi counterparts pulled back to the main US base outside the city in line with a June 30 deadline under the US-Iraqi joint security agreement. The move, a prelude to the complete withdrawal of US forces by the end of 2011, has raised concerns that Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups are creeping back into the city.

The US military says it was asked for and provided aerial surveillance after the attacks for intelligence gathering, medical evacuation, and forensic help to try to piece together who was responsible.

The coordinated attack, on the anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, with its size and sophistication, had the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"These attacks represent a reaction to the opening of streets and bridges and the lifting of barriers inside the residential areas," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement. He blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq and former Baathists, as did many of the Iraqis in the streets.

"Only the Baathists would do this – they like destruction," said Saad Kamal Rahim al-Saadi, a street sweeper in an orange vest who was making a futile attempt to clear shattered glass.

"Not everything that happens is because of the Baathists," disagreed Abu Isa, a driver. "The Baathists themselves are afraid right now. If I was a security person I would protect the people – they're not doing their jobs."

'No one from the government has come here'

Another Iraqi in the gathering crowd, a shopkeeper, said he believed the United States and Israel were behind the bombings, because they wanted an excuse for American troops to stay.

Sardar Khorsheed, one of the Kurdish security people at the nearby parliament building, sat on the edge of the giant crater where the truck bomb had exploded.

"When the Americans were here there were no big explosions," he said, but added that that didn't mean he wanted the American troops to return.

Some of the anger of Iraqis was directed at the Iraqi government.

"No one from the government has come down here," said Henna al-Tamimmi, who lives in one of the blocks of apartments across the street. She said her windows were blown out, the doors hanging off her hinges, and the furniture in pieces. "It looks like the explosion happened in our house – where are we going to sleep tonight? All Iraqi officials do is go on television and say they have everything under control."

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