Iraq bombings: US military spokesman praises Iraqi response

Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza lauds Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for focusing on rebuilding, rather than rushing to assign blame as he did in the wake of the Aug. 19 bombings.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    A man walks Monday past the crater caused by a massive bomb attack in front of the building of the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad . A pair of suicide car bombings Sunday devastated the heart of Iraq's capital in the country's deadliest attack in more than two years.
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The US military spokesman in Iraq says he is heartened by the Iraqi government's response to Sunday's devastating attacks against government ministries. But as the Iraqi government further tightened security in the capital, there were no answers as to how the suicide bombings could have taken place after the government vowed to overhaul security following a similar attack just two months ago.

"There was obviously some breach in security ... that allowed that to happen. We don't have all the details," says Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza.

The death toll from the suicide bombings Sunday rose to more than 150 with hundreds more seriously wounded. Still, Lanza says that the government has responded more effectively to Sunday's bombings of the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad governorate than it did to the suicide truck bombings that hit the Foreign and Finance ministries and killed about 100 people on Aug. 19.

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"We didn't see the finger-pointing that occurred after Aug. 19 ... the 'who's going to be fired?' and blaming other countries. You see a government that is much more pragmatic in its approach: 'We're going to launch an investigation. We're going to look at the intelligence to determine what happened, and we're going to take it from there,'" says Lanza.

Learning from the Aug. 19 bombings

The August bombings, in which a suicide truck bomb was allowed to drive through checkpoints and detonate directly outside the Foreign Ministry and near the Finance Ministry, were seen as a systemic failure in security. About 100 people were killed and almost 800 wounded in that attack. The Iraqi government responded by firing senior security officials it accused of negligence and almost immediately airing a videotaped confession by what it termed an Al Qaeda in Iraq operative. That confession has been widely discredited. Iraq has also accused Syria of refusing to extradite Iraqi Baathists, whom it accuses of planning the attacks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was criticized for waiting several days before visiting the site of the Foreign and Finance ministry bombings in August, almost immediately went to the sites of Monday's attacks.

Focus is now on rebuilding, not blaming

US and Iraqi officials say Sunday's suicide bombings, which involved near-simultaneous detonations of hundreds of pounds of explosives, had the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. But the Iraqi government, which held an emergency security meeting Sunday night, has been uncharacteristically quiet in laying blame.

Mr. Maliki on Monday vowed to continue rebuilding in the wake of attacks he said were designed to stop Iraq's progress.

"I think what you haven't seen in this one is you haven't seen [Iraqi officials] jump to conclusions. You haven't seen them put anyone on TV like last time," says Lanza. "I think this is a much more deliberate approach."

He says Iraqi security forces have been more aggressive in making arrests, conducting intelligence operations, and implementing more effective checkpoints after the August attacks.

Search for forensic evidence

On Monday, streets around the devastated buildings remained closed to traffic. The blasts sheared the front off the Justice and Municipality ministry buildings, leaving floors caving under collapsed ceilings.

US explosives experts embedded with Iraqi security forces on Sunday waded through pools of water and piles of twisted metal overrun by crowds of bystanders as they searched for forensic evidence from the blast. Investigations in Iraq are usually hampered by a tradition of not cordoning off blast sites and hosing down streets where fatalities have occurred as quickly as possible.

Lanza says Sunday's attack will not affect the pace of withdrawal of US forces, who are due to leave entirely by 2011. Instead he says, the US is focused on national elections being held in Iraq in January.

The United States and the United Nations have become increasingly worried that Parliament, deadlocked over changes to an election law, will not pass a law in time to hold elections in January as called for in the Constitution.

At the site of the bombings on Sunday, many Iraqis blamed the attacks on political parties they said were jockeying for position ahead of the vote and said they expected more violence before the January poll.

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