Bloody Week Threatens Iraqi Confidence

Nearly 100 people died in bomb attacks on government buildings in Baghdad this week. The attacks have undermined confidence that the Iraqi government can handle security now that American soldiers have left the cities. Host Scott Simon talks to NPR's Deborah Amos in Baghdad about the likely political repercussions.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Nearly 100 people died in bomb attacks on government buildings in Baghdad this week. The Iraqi government has announced several arrests, but the attacks have undermined confidence that the Iraqi government can handle security now that U.S. soldiers have left the cities.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in Baghdad. Deborah, thanks for being with us.

DEBORAH AMOS: Thank you. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So I understand Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, held a press conference today at the site of the most devastating bombing earlier in the week. What did he say?

AMOS: Well, we had to walk through the wreckage to get to the news conference. And some of the employees of the foreign ministry were there in head bandages -it was the walking wounded. Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister, he wanted to send an international message, so he spoke in English.

It was primarily: we will go on. But he also said that senior members of Iraq's security services have been arrested. And he was pretty adamant that the bombers had to have inside help to get this truck with two tons of explosives in front of his ministry.

Last night, a government spokesman announced that former members of the Ba'ath Party, people loyal to Saddam Hussein, were arrested. The details are still pretty thin, and the government is under intense pressure to show progress. What we saw at the bomb site on Wednesday is there's nobody in charge when a bomb like this goes off.

So what you saw was the fire department was there hosing down the blood, the evidence wasn't secure. They were actually washing away the evidence.

SIMON: It's been six weeks, of course, since U.S. soldiers completed the withdrawal from Iraqi cities. And what do all of those items you site - the bombing, the aftermath - suggest about the ability of this Iraqi government to handle security issues?

AMOS: Well, if you ask Iraqis this week, it would be a big fat F, or that the prime minister was just overconfident. And government officials have been forced to admit negligence. Iraqis are getting angrier because the attacks have been escalating since the Americans pulled back.

Now, since Wednesday, television channels here have been running this video. What you see is the Baghdad local government security cameras recorded the truck that carried the bombs. It was a huge water truck with a red tank strapped to the side. You see it move slowly through traffic, there's no security checks as it makes its way toward the front of the ministry. It goes off.

Now, these trucks are banned from this part of town. So what happens on television is politicians come on after the picture and say, how could this have happened? A month ago the prime minister eased the security restrictions in front of that building, he removed some security checkpoints, and it was his normalization campaign.

Today, Hoshyar Zebari said that we need those blast walls, and as we walked out of the foreign ministry, you could see them going back up.

SIMON: You know, it is so common in so many parts of the world for governments, when there's a terrible bombing, to ask for assistance from the FBI, Scotland Yard, with all of their technical expertise that they have. Is it awkward, though, for the Iraqi government to ask the U.S., any U.S. government agency, for help?

AMOS: Very. It's a sensitive subject. They did ask. They got help on forensics and intelligence. And the Americans are treating some of the most severely wounded. But they really wanted to keep that under wraps, even as officials had to admit yesterday that they will need U.S. technical support for some time to come.

You know, on June 30th, when the U.S. pulled out of the cities, the Maliki government used this as an occasion to celebrate Iraqi sovereignty and to burnish his own credentials as the guy who could make Baghdad safe. So he brought the blast walls down and people are looking to him as responsible. Nobody wants the Americans to come back. What they want is this government to get its act together and secure the capital.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos in Baghdad, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you, Scott.

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