BAGHDAD – Iraq's top leadership called Friday for a review of government security measures after a pair of suicide attacks killed about 60 people this week in the Baghdad area.
The capability of Iraq's army and police to maintain security has taken on new urgency now that President Barack Obama has announced plans to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010 and end the U.S. mission here by the end of the following year.
A statement on the Web site of Iraq's presidency council, which includes the national president and the two vice presidents, said the attacks "represent a grave deterioration in the security situation" after weeks of relative calm.
The statement said the council, which has representatives of the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities, would ask Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to summon top security officials after he returns from a visit to Australia to discuss how the attacks were carried out and measures to prevent more in the future.
Last Sunday a suicide attacker wearing an explosives vest killed 30 people near the Baghdad police academy.
Two days later, a suicide attacker struck a group of Sunni and Shiite sheiks and military officers touring an outdoor market in a west Baghdad suburb, killing 33, including two Iraqi TV journalists.
An al-Qaida front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for the Sunday blast, which followed weeks of relative calm. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, blamed both attacks on "small al-Qaida-related cells."
In Sydney, Australia, al-Maliki insisted that Iraqis were united against terrorism and that the country was returning to normalcy after nearly six years of war.
"Iraq will neither be a venue for, nor a passage to, other organizations, particularly terrorism," al-Maliki said in a speech at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
America's top military commander, Adm. Mike Mullen, acknowledged in a television interview aired Thursday that there had been an uptick in violence in Iraq but insisted that U.S. and Iraqi forces were "headed in the right direction."
"Many of us have spoken for a long time that al-Qaida is not defeated," Mullen said on PBS' The Charlie Rose Show. "They are greatly diminished. We think we're going to see these spikes in violence over time. And what you've seen in the last few days is exactly that."
Two small bombings occurred in the capital Friday. One of them killed a woman and wounded a boy in the southern neighborhood of Dora, police said. A roadside bomb wounded four policemen early Friday in eastern Baghdad, police said.
Both policemen who gave the reports spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release information to media.
Also Friday, Shiite preachers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the release of the Iraqi journalist sentenced to three years in prison for throwing his shoes at then-President George W. Bush.
Sheik Suhail al-Iqabi said the sentence against Muntadhar al-Zeidi was "a verdict against the Iraqi people who refuse the American occupation" of Iraq.
Another Sadrist preacher, Sheik Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammadawi, told worshippers in Kufa that the verdict was unjust and asked "why don't you try the Americans who are killing the Iraqi people in cold blood."
Al-Zeidi's act during a December news conference by Bush and al-Maliki electrified the Arab world, where the former U.S. president is reviled for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The 30-year-old reporter was convicted Thursday of assaulting a foreign leader and given the minimum three-year sentence. His lawyers plan to appeal.
Also Friday, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to stop the executions of 128 prisoners on death row, saying the country's judicial system is ill-equipped to provide a fair trial.
The international rights organization said the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council had informed it that authorities were planning to carry out the death sentences in batches of 20 per week.
At least 34 of 285 people sentenced to death were executed last year, while at least 33 of 199 people sentenced to death were executed in 2007 and 65 people were put to death in 2006, according to the group.
"Iraq's creaking judicial system is simply unable to guarantee fair trials in ordinary criminal cases, and even less so in capital cases, with the result, we fear, that numerous people have gone to their death after unfair trials," said Amnesty's regional director, Malcolm Smart.