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Iraq arrests four security officials following Baghdad bombings

By Roy Gutman and Laith Hammoudi, McClatchy Newspapers –

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government has arrested four of its own security officers in connection with a devastating wave of car bombs that killed 65 and wounded more than 200 civilians in Baghdad on Thursday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disclosed Saturday.

Al-Maliki did not say whether the four worked for the ministry of the Interior, the Defense ministry or another part of government, and Ali Moussawi, his media coordinator, had no further details.

“We captured four security officers related to the last set of bombings,” Maliki told a conference of tribal leaders from mostly Sunni Salahuddin province, where Sunni politicians are seeking to set up a semi-independent region. One of the sheikhs asked him: “Security officers?” He replied: “Yes, security officers.”

Even with such sparse details, al-Maliki’s disclosure reinforced a conviction long held by many Iraqis, that much of the violence against innocent civilians as well as security officials here is directed by senior political figures, using security guards working for the Iraqi executive branch or members of parliament.

Iraq is in the throes of a major political crisis over allegations that Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi was effectively running a death squad out of his personal security detail.

A panel of five judges issued an arrest warrant Monday for Hashemi after three of his former bodyguards alleged he had paid and directed them to carry out assassinations against military officers.

Al-Maliki and the Shiite-dominated government have been widely criticized for politicizing what many politicians say is a plausible case against the guards, though not necessarily against Hashemi. After the Interior ministry, which al-Maliki personally directs, broadcast select parts of the interrogations of the bodyguards on the state Iraqiya television network, al-Maliki publicly challenged Hashemi to appear before a court in Baghdad to prove his innocence.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the charges against Hashemi was that al-Maliki said the case dated back three years, but he’d kept it secret for the sake of the political process. “What happened was that they continued to commit their crimes, and this has changed the equation,” he said Wednesday.

Hashemi is now a fugitive from justice in largely autonomous Kurdistan, a province of Iraq, where the authorities have declined to serve the arrest warrant.

“I’m here as vice president,” Hashemi told the Al Jazeera English television channel Saturday evening, in the latest of a series of TV interviews. “I moved from Baghdad to Suleimaniyah at the invitation by the president,” he said, referring to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. “I am performing my duties as always.”

Hashemi said he would return to Baghdad if al-Maliki withdrew police from Hashemi’s office and restored to his bodyguards the freedom to move about and protect him.

Hashemi said he was certain that the wave of car bombs was the work of government security officials.

“I am a former army officer,” he said. “Who but the government could plant these?”

He said the wide variety of sites where car bombs were placed reflected that the assault was “well-organized” and “beyond the capacity” of organized crime.

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