Alleged Iraq bombers offer confessions

AP News
Posted: Nov 22, 2009 11:57 AM

Three jailed suspects in Oct. 25 bombings that killed more than 150 people in Iraq said they filmed the targeted buildings before the attack and escorted the car bombs in a convoy into Baghdad, according to confessions shown on Iraqi television Sunday.

The men, who were seated and wearing orange jumpsuits while speaking in custody, introduced themselves as members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party. There was no way to independently verify their accounts of an attack that exposed wide security gaps in the heavily protected center of Baghdad.

The coordinated blasts appeared aimed at undermining Iraq's government ahead of 2010 national elections, a key step toward stability after years of war. The vote, scheduled for January, has been thrown into uncertainty by a vice president's veto of an election law that could force a delay in the polling.

Parliament's political blocs held intense talks on Sunday to try to resolve the deadlock over the veto by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab who wants more seats for Iraqis living abroad, many of them Sunnis who fled the Iraqi conflict.

The lawmakers, who planned to meet Monday, can compromise with al-Hashemi and change the law, or send it back to the three-member presidency, where al-Hashemi is likely to veto it again. Under the constitution, parliament can then override the second veto with a three-fifths majority.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill met with Iraqi lawmakers Sunday. The U.S. has tied the pace of its withdrawal of combat troops to the election date, and is eager to see a smooth electoral process.

The election law impasse reflects Sunni suspicions about the majority Shiites, who dominate the government after brutal treatment under Saddam, a Sunni who was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Similarly, the confessions of the jailed bombers were likely to be met with skepticism by some Sunnis who believe official denunciations of Baathists are aimed at undercutting Sunni political clout by association.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad's military spokesman, made the announcement about the jailed bombers at a televised news conference, and al-Iraqiya state television later broadcast a video of detained men who acknowledged Baathist links.

One of the suspects, a former police officer named Mohammed Haasan Ayid, said he was instructed by another conspirator to visit the target sites: the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Administration.

There, he said, he collected "information about the height of the blast barriers and the distance between the two buildings and descriptions of the two buildings."

The two buildings are a few hundred meters apart. The Ministry of Public Works, next to the Justice Ministry, was also caught up in the blast.

Ayid said he drove from Taji, just north of Baghdad, in a convoy that included a car carrying a Saudi citizen and one of the bombs.

"My car was leading the other two cars and the reason behind this was to deal with any emergency situation at the checkpoints. Inside Baghdad, my task was over and I left them to go to my house," he said.

Another suspect, Ammar Mahdi, said he had filmed the targeted buildings as part of the planning, and met "happy" co-conspirators hours after the attacks. He said another planner promised to pay him for his role.

The third suspect identified himself as Abdul-Sattar Najim, a former Iraqi army officer.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said he believes a mix of insurgents, including members of al-Qaida in Iraq and what he called "Sunni rejectionists" or "ex-Baathists," were behind the October blasts, and similar attacks on government targets in August.

Violence is down sharply in Iraq, but insurgents routinely carry out small-scale attacks in addition to the occasional, high-profile operation.

In separate incidents Sunday in the northern city of Mosul, an 8-year-old boy was killed when a grenade was thrown at a nearby police patrol, and gunmen in a car killed a junior official of the municipality, a police officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.