By Muhanad Mohammed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces have arrested 16 suspected al Qaeda members accused of being behind more than 100 killings in the capital, a senior security official said Sunday.
General Ahmed Abu Ragheef, the Interior Ministry's head of internal affairs, accused the men of carrying out the high-profile assassination in May of Ali al-Lami, a senior Iraqi politician who helped purge members of Saddam Hussein's banned Baath party from politics after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Militants have stepped up attacks, specifically targeting police and army officers, to try to destabilise the government as U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of December, more than eight years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
"We managed to arrest the terrorist group that was responsible for the recent assassinations in Baghdad," Ragheef told reporters at a news conference.
Ragheef said the entire operation to arrest the 16 men, including the cell's leader, had taken security forces 20 days.
He said security forces had also uncovered the cell's main weapons cache and a factory in southern Baghdad where silenced guns and sticky bombs were being manufactured.
The cell was also responsible for a failed May 8 jailbreak attempt at an Interior Ministry counter-terrorism unit jail complex in Baghdad in which 18 people, including an al Qaeda leader and a senior Iraqi counter-terrorism official, were killed in a battle between inmates and security officers.
Violence has dropped sharply since the height of Iraq's sectarian conflict in 2006-2007 but both Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim groups carry out killings, bombings and attacks that happen almost daily.
Local Sunni Islamist al Qaeda affiliates are still blamed for much of the violence in Iraq.
(Editing by Serena Chaudhry)