Maliki fires Baghdad security commander after bombings
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki dismissed his Baghdad security commander Wednesday in response to criticism after this week’s car bombings and a spate of recent high-profile attacks that crippled state institutions.
Gen. Aboud Qanbar’s removal was announced before Maliki’s scheduled visit to parliament today to address the chamber about Tuesday’s four car bombings and two other major bomb attacks since August that have killed nearly 400 people and severely damaged four government ministries.
Ahmed Hashim Ouda, deputy chief of staff at the Defense Ministry, will replace Qanbar, who will be demoted to deputy, according to the official announcement on state television.
It was not clear whether Qanbar’s removal would be enough for Maliki to maintain his reputation as the man who saved the country from civil war by standing up to militants, regardless of their sect.
The attacks have delivered a blow to the credibility of all government ministers and parliament members, but Maliki, whose coalition won the greatest share of seats in local government elections last winter, has the most to lose.
Tahseen Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman for Baghdad military operations, downplayed the decision to demote Qanbar and said he didn’t expect drastic changes.
The recent security failures in Baghdad cannot be laid at the feet of one commander or official, he said, despite the vitriol from public figures.
“We have to be responsible when we talk about such issues. The enemy is attacking the civilian population and the government,” Sheikhly said. “I think we have to review our attitudes. We have to say all of us are responsible for what happened yesterday.”
Aware of the growing discontent, Maliki made a televised speech Wednesday in which he called for Iraqis to support the government and warned his rivals not to exploit the violence in campaigning for the March 7 national elections. The date was announced Tuesday, just hours after the car bombings.
“I’m addressing all components in the political process not to use this event, the previous ones and upcoming [attacks] to create conflict and division,” Maliki said. “This should be a reason for unity and solidarity, because if we face these challenges divided, that means disunity of the Iraqi people against the terrorists and terrorism.”
During its troop buildup in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. often credited Qanbar for helping to bring an end to Baghdad’s sectarian war.
Some lawmakers called his dismissal inadequate and appeared to be in a combative mood before Maliki’s visit to parliament today.
“This doesn’t change the strategy in dealing with a terrorist operation. Changing one person will not make any difference,” said Sheik Sabah Saadi, a lawmaker with the rival Shiite Al Fadila al Islamiya religious party. “This change is trying to cover our eyes and to manipulate the demands of the parliament” for accountability.
Ahmed is a Times staff writer. Times staff writers Raheem Salman and Usama Redha contributed to this report.