BAGHDAD – The prime minister appealed Wednesday to Iraqis to stand by their security forces, even as angry lawmakers demanded answers and called on top officials to resign following the third massive attack against government sites since summer.
Nouri al-Maliki was expected to attend a special parliamentary session Thursday where lawmakers have demanded his interior and defense ministers appear to answer questions on how bombers once again found holes in security in heavily guarded central Baghdad, according to the parliament speaker's spokesman.
But al-Maliki appeared ready to make some changes. State-run Iraqiya TV reported he ordered a shake-up at the top of Baghdad security — moving the deputy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Hashim Ouda, to the top spot. The current commander, veteran military leader Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, will take Ouda's post, the announcement said.
The shuffle, however, doesn't come close to the wholesale purges demanded by some lawmakers and other critics.
Al-Maliki asked Iraqis for patience and warned against fomenting political divisions following Tuesday's string of suicide bombings that killed at least 127 people and wounded over 500 in the Iraqi capital.
"I call on the Iraqi people for more patience and steadfastness," he said Wednesday in a televised address.
The deadly bombings raised tough questions for al-Maliki about the abilities of Iraq's security forces ahead of next year's withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The U.S. military has warned of a possible rise in violence ahead of the March 7 parliamentary elections.
Ayad al-Samarrie, the parliament speaker, called on the interior and defense ministers, the commander of Baghdad military operations and other security officials to appear before the special session, said Omar al-Mashhadani, the speaker's spokesman.
Top security officials have been called twice before — and failed to show up — to answer questions in parliament about security lapses, after suicide bombers in August and October killed hundreds in attacks on other government buildings.
This time, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani agreed to attend the session under one condition — that it not be held behind closed doors, according to a statement released by his office. It was not immediately clear whether his demand was met or whether other officials would attend.
The prime minister has so far not sacked any of this top security advisers, but there have been growing calls for resignations following the most recent attacks. Al-Maliki has been running for re-election on a platform of improved security, and any perceived security failures could cost him as well as his political party at the polls.
During the address on state television, al-Maliki said Iraq's security strategies would be reviewed and possible personnel changes made. He, however, stopped short of saying whether any top officials would be held responsible for security lapses or whether he would be shuffling his security advisers.
The U.S. military has said it will keep the bulk of its 120,000 troops in place in Iraq until after the election.
Abbas al-Bayati, the head of parliament's defense committee, said Iraq must have an emergency plan to deal with any violence ahead of the elections.
"The Iraqi people need convincing answers from the security commanders," al-Bayati told state television. "If the security falls apart, then everything will collapse."
There have been no claims of responsibility for the latest attacks, though Iraq has claimed al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were behind the August and October as well as the most recent bombings.
Al-Maliki appeared to demand that Syria must do more to stop senior Baath Party officials living on its territory from plotting attacks against Iraq. The prime minister has in the past accused Syria of harboring senior Baathists who masterminded attacks in Iraq. Syria denies the charges.
"I demand of the international community and all countries, including neighboring countries, who condemn the attacks to turn their words into actions and support the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government by confronting terrorism," al-Maliki said.
However, Baath Party spokesman Khudair al-Murshidi denied that Baathists were behind the attacks, which he condemned in comments to Al-Jazeera television from Damascus, the Syrian capital.
While violence has dramatically declined in Iraq, insurgents have continued with some regularity to launch attacks against security forces and civilians.
On Wednesday, there were scattered reports of violence across the capital.
A bomb attached to a minibus exploded in northern Baghdad, killing two and injuring 11, an Iraqi army official said.
A bomb hidden in a garbage heap killed two street sweepers and injured three passers-by in northern Baghdad, while an hour later in the same neighborhood a gunman killed a police officer at a checkpoint, police said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Meanwhile, rescue operations were halted Wednesday around the labor and finance ministries as well as the court complex after crews completed their search through debris, said police Col. Safaa Saadi Jawad, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's rescue operations.
"If we receive reports from families of missing people, we will look some more," he said.
Funerals were under way for bombing victims. Some families carried black flag-draped coffins through the streets, while others waited at the morgue to claim bodies authorities were still working to identify.