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Iraq Begins Security Review In Wake Of Explosions

The scene of a massive explosion outside the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in central Baghdad

More explosions ripped through Baghdad and the southern city of Mosul as senior Iraqi officials called for a thorough review of security forces, improved intelligence gathering, and tougher treatment of terrorism suspects and detainees.

The review was prompted by the massive truck bombings in Baghdad that killed 95 people and wounded more than 1,000 on August 19.

Those blasts were the deadliest day in Iraq this year, and targeted what should have been among the most heavily guarded sites -- federal ministries.

A bombing that killed at least two people and wounded 20 on Auhgust 21 at a vegetable market in southern Baghdad exposed more lapses in security after the truck used in the attack passed through an Iraqi police checkpoint without being searched, police said.

Violence also continued near the volatile northern city of Mosul, where scores have been killed in bombings this month. A car bomb struck an Iraqi Army patrol in a Sunni village near the Syrian border, killing four soldiers, according to police.

The blasts have shattered public confidence in Iraqi forces.

Review Under Way

In a meeting on August 21, the defense and interior ministers and other officials decided on a set of proposals to submit to the Political Council for National Security, whose members include President Jalal Talibani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

They include the creation of a joint committee of officials from the Interior, Defense, and National Security ministries to determine how to better investigate and prosecute insurgents.

Officials have also called for holding any security leaders found to be negligent responsible, improving the coordination between intelligence agencies, and tightening control over the release of detainees.

Parliament is set to hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss security issues.

Iraq celebrated its sovereignty when U.S. troops withdrew from urban centers in June, which put Iraqi forces into the lead role more than six years after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Since then, several huge explosions have shaken Iraqi confidence, though bomb attacks were also common when U.S. forces were in charge.

Under an Iraqi-U.S. security pact that took effect January 1, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

President Barack Obama has ordered all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August 31, 2010, leaving up to 50,000 U.S. troops in training and advising roles.

U.S. To Return?

The security pact also contains a provision that allows the Iraqi government to request assistance from the U.S. military if it feels security conditions warrant.

"The agreement permits to the Iraqi government to ask for assistance whenever it wants. The government is the one who has the authority and it's up to it to take the decision of asking for help once it thinks it is needed," says Fadhil Muhammad Jawad, the legal adviser to the Council of Ministers, adding that "yes, the agreement allows the Iraqi government also to ask the American government and the American forces to stay for a certain period of time, in a certain governorate or a certain region when it thinks it's necessary."

But the prospect of U.S. forces returning to Iraqi towns and cities isn't a popular one in Iraq.

Echoing the views of other government officials, Falah Hassan, a member of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, on August 21 rejected the idea.

"We will oppose any demand from the government for the return of U.S. forces to the streets," he said. "It's okay if there is certain support in the intelligence field in certain circumstances, or medical support, or reconnaissance missions from the air -- yes, we would accept that. Otherwise, no, we will not accept the return of U.S. forces to the streets. We think that the U.S. forces are part of the problem and not part of the solution."

Pentagon: No Change

A spokesman for the Pentagon in Washington told RFE/RL there has been no move to review the joint security arrangement, adding: "If we're asked to come into the towns or cities to assist [Iraqi security forces], we will. We're in close contact with folks on the ground in Iraq and there's no indication that things have changed."

The defense official also said the U.S. plan to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within one year has not been affected by the recent spate of violence. Washington, he said, is "looking at this from a big picture perspective, [and] from a historical perspective the number of attacks is still trending downward."

Saadi al-Muttalibi, deputy of the Ministry of State for the Affairs of National Dialogue, confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that the Iraqi government hasn't asked U.S. forces to return to their posts in cities and towns. He added that the conditions that allowed the attacks to happen are a matter of internal Iraqi security and therefore not something American forces could assist with.

"The [security] breach was not simple, it was huge," he said. "The Iraqi Forces proved they are lacking something in the intelligence field. In this field, the American forces are not able to provide help. The intelligence story is an exclusively Iraqi one. The interior and the defense ministries, the National Security, and the Intelligence Agency have the huge duty of revising their security plans, the collection of intelligence information and to coordinate [their efforts]."

Muttalibi said he holds the country's parliament partly responsible for the uptick in violence because it hasn't been able to agree on the formation of a central agency to fight terrorism. That agency would operate outside the realm of politics to infiltrate terrorist groups and dismantle them before they can launch attacks, he said.

Iraq will hold elections in January and there is considerable pressure on Al-Maliki's government between now and then to demonstrate that it can improve the security situation in the country and solve some of the most critical, and contentious, issues still dividing Iraqis.

Contentious Issues

Joost Hilterman, the deputy program director for North Africa and the Middle East at the International Crisis Group, says the recent violence doesn't indicate a failure on the part of security officials as much as a failure on the part of the government to forge agreements on critical and contentious issues dividing Iraqis.

"There will be violence as long as there is no political agreement at the top about the fundamental issues that divide Iraqis today:over oil, territory and power -- how it should be divided and shared," Hilterman says. "As long as there is no agreements there will be areas where spoilers, insurgents, and others, will find permissive terrain to operate from. And that's where these attacks are coming from."

Hilterman says Maliki's government is "eager to show that it is in control" and for that reason, doesn't "think they want to call on American troops in any kind of evident way because that would undermine the Maliki effort to portray itself as fully in charge of the situation and fully sovereign ahead of the elections."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq contributed to this report. with news agency material