Iraq condemns 11 to death in ministry bombings
August attacks killed over 100, shook security
BAGHDAD - An Iraqi court yesterday sentenced 11 people to death by hanging after convicting them of carrying out the August bombings of two government ministries that killed more than 100 people in the heart of Baghdad.
The attacks - the deadliest to that point in over a year and a half - raised questions about the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the country. They occurred less than two months after the US military handed over control of the country’s cities to local security forces.
The bombings and two more massive attacks since have shaken Iraqis’ confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his political reputation on keeping Iraq safe as he seeks to secure a second term. The swift convictions were announced less than two months before Iraqis vote in a nationwide parliamentary election.
Despite tangible security gains over the past two years, fear of another major bombing is never far from the surface. The sentences yesterday were handed down amid heightened security concerns after a crackdown earlier this week that brought parts of Baghdad to a standstill.
Just hours after the sentences were announced, a series of deadly bomb attacks struck the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, underscoring the challenges facing the nation’s security forces. At least three people were reported killed and scores more injured, though the death toll could rise.
“I expect more injured people will die because they were wounded seriously,’’ said Dr. Mohammed al-Kharsan, director of al-Hakim Hospital in Najaf.
Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, said a criminal court in Baghdad’s eastern Rusafah district found the 11 defendants guilty of financing, planning, and participating in the Aug. 19 bombings, which destroyed the government’s foreign and finance ministries.
There have since been two other massive attacks in Baghdad targeting government buildings, in October and December. Those attacks together killed more than 280 people and injured hundreds more.
The blasts have fueled outrage among many Iraqis, who wondered how bombers could have driven through an area dotted with checkpoints to reach sites that were supposed to be among the safest in the city.
Bayrkdar said the defendants have a month to appeal the death sentences. He declined to provide details about those convicted and did not name the judges, citing security precautions.
An Interior Ministry official said one of those convicted was Ishaq Mohammed, who was released from Camp Bucca, a now shuttered US detention facility in southern Iraq, about a year ago.
The official, who said most of those convicted had criminal records, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Evidence against the defendants included explosives, detonators, and car bombs that were found at locations where they were arrested, Bayrkdar said. He said the trial took place over three court sessions starting Dec. 29.
No date had been set for their executions.
Shortly after the August attacks, the Iraqi military released what it said was the confession of a Sunni man identified as a senior member of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Ba’ath Party. The military said the man admitted to supervising the attack on the Finance Ministry.