Testifying on Capitol Hill today, General John Abizaid said claims by Iraq's Interior Ministry that Al Qaeda terrorists tried to storm the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad where the U.S. and British embassies are located were true.
Abizaid was asked about the reported plot that allegedly involved more than 400 Al Qaeda operatives infiltrating Iraqi Security Forces and taking over guard posts around the Green Zone which is also the seat of the Iraqi government.
"I think you can look at it that it's a good thing we found out about it before it moved forward and with a good deal of concern that people are trying to infiltrate the national security forces and various branches of the government," he said.
"As sectarian tensions increase, it becomes harder to hold things together. I am confident we can move in a positive direction and the security forces will stay loyal," he added.
Tuesday the interior minister of Iraq had said authorities had foiled the plot that would have put hundreds of its men at critical guard posts around the Green Zone.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 Al Qaeda fighters were actually recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials were jailed in the plot, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the 421 Al Qaeda recruits were one bureaucrat's signature away from acceptance into an Iraqi army battalion whose job is to control the gates and main squares in the Green Zone. The plot was discovered three weeks ago.
"You can imagine what could happen to a minister or an ambassador while passing through these gates when those terrorists are there," Jabr said in the interview conducted at his office inside the Green Zone — a 2-square-mile hunk of prime real estate on the west bank of the Tigris River. The area is a maze of concrete blast walls, concertina wire and checkpoints.
The Defense Ministry official said the plot was uncovered by the military intelligence and the General Intelligence department that works under the government.
The Green Zone has been attacked in the past with mortar rounds and rockets. A number of car bombs driven by suicide attackers have been detonated in the past two years at the entrances, killing scores of people.
On Oct. 14, 2004, two Al Qaeda members carried out a suicide attack inside the zone, hitting a market and a cafe. Six people were killed, including four Americans, and 20 people were wounded.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.