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Iraq vows to bolster security after blasts

Leaders press forward on new election law

By Rebecca Santana
Associated Press / October 27, 2009

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BAGHDAD - Iraq’s government made progress on a new election law that could ease tensions and pledged tighter security yesterday after suicide bombings Sunday claimed at least 155 lives, including as many as two dozen children trapped in a bus leaving a day-care center.

But those promises held little sway with Iraqis outraged at the government’s inability to maintain peace in the city.

The two weekend bombings, in what was supposed to be one of the city’s safest areas, coincided with Iraq’s preparations for pivotal elections in January that will determine who will guide the country through the US withdrawal. The blasts seemed designed to undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his political future on restoring safety to the country.

“Al-Maliki always appears on TV bragging that the situation is stable and security is restored. Let him come and see this mass destruction,’’ said Ahmed Mahmoud, who had returned to the blast site yesterday after identifying his brother’s headless body at a hospital morgue by the belt he was wearing.

“I took the body to Najaf for burial. Then I came back looking for the head,’’ Mahmoud said.

The bombings were perceived as an attack on the Shi’ite-led government, and senior leaders including the prime minister, the president, and the Parliament speaker hastened their efforts yesterday to work out a proposed election law that could help the country move forward with the January vote, said an official close to the talks.

Lawmakers have been wrangling for weeks about the election law, and observers, including the United States, had worried that failure to agree on the guidelines might delay the crucial vote.

There were few details on the proposal, which the official said would be presented to political party leaders today. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, moved to increase security in the capital, tightening hundreds of checkpoints that already dot the city, snarling traffic for hours. Security reinforcements flooded into the streets, after authorities said they had intelligence showing other targets were next.

The damage from Sunday’s bombings was even worse than originally believed, with three major government buildings destroyed or severely damaged, all within a few hundred yards of each other. The first blast hit the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works across the street, followed by a second explosion at the Baghdad Provincial Administration, akin to City Hall.

A busload of children leaving a day-care center next to the Justice Ministry was caught in the first blast and 24 children and the bus driver were killed, hospital and police officials said. Six children were wounded, said the officials.

An investigation showed that the two vehicles - a minivan and a 26-seat bus, each packed with thousands of pounds of explosives - probably had to pass through multiple security checkpoints before reaching their targets, police said.

Both bombings were suicide attacks and investigators have recovered some remains from the attackers and were trying to identify them.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said 76 people had been arrested, though he did not say who they were or how they were believed to be connected to the bombings.