August 23, 2009 in Nation/World

Iraq backtracks, begins restoring protective walls

Officials fear recent bombings were inside job
Kim Gamel Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, center, inspects damage to the ministry complex in Baghdad on Saturday after a deadly bombing there Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

BAGHDAD – Workers used giant cranes to raise concrete walls around the blast-scarred Foreign Ministry and other government buildings on Saturday, as Iraqi authorities sought to bolster security after suicide truck bombings that killed scores in Baghdad.

The decision to reinforce vital institutions is a sharp reversal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s desire to remove the barriers as part of his efforts to make life more normal for war-weary Iraqis before January’s national elections.

Wednesday’s bombings against the foreign and finance ministries have shaken confidence in a government eager to demonstrate that it can take over responsibility for the country’s security from American combat troops, who pulled back from urban areas on June 30 with plans for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

“We have to face the truth. There has been an obvious deterioration in the security situation in the past two months,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said during a news conference at his damaged headquarters, which sits next to the protected Green Zone.

Shattered glass and debris were scattered throughout the ministry building and the grounds outside. Walls were stained with blood and bandaged employees hugged and kissed each other while asking about the fate of colleagues.

Zebari said the suicide bombings may have been an inside job, adding that an investigation was under way into how the explosives-laden trucks were allowed through checkpoints and into areas where they are banned from traveling.

Iraqi workers used a yellow crane to lift concrete slabs from 10 flatbed trucks to build a new security barrier around the Foreign Ministry.

The prime minister had announced plans to remove most blast walls from Baghdad’s streets by mid-September, but many critics accused him of lifting security measures prematurely for political purposes.

The walls at the ministry were among some of the first ordered removed by al-Maliki in a bid to take advantage of a sharp drop in violence to improve traffic flow and make the city less prison-like.

New concrete barriers also are being erected around the Finance Ministry and nearby offices, officials said.

The U.S. military started erecting the barriers, which are designed to absorb the impact of bombings and rocket attacks and protect against gunfire, after the 2003 invasion.

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