Multiple bombers planned to bomb ministries, attacks that were to be followed by a wave of assassinations, officials say. Summary.
BAGHDAD - Iraqi officials said they had uncovered a wide-ranging plot to bomb government ministries and other public places, to be followed by a wave of political assassinations, and they responded Tuesday with raids that netted large quantities of explosives and brought much of Baghdad to a virtual standstill.
At least four suicide car bombers -- and as many as 10 -- were apparently on their way to government buildings Tuesday morning when they were stopped by the police and arrested, the authorities said.
During raids on houses and warehouses in Baghdad that lasted throughout the day, the authorities arrested 25 people and recovered more than 440 pounds each of TNT and C4, about 66 gallons of ammonium nitrate solution and 60 mortar shells, according to a statement from Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, which is responsible for security in Baghdad.
'They terrified and shocked the people'
The announcement set off accusations from some Sunni politicians that the Shiite-led Iraqi government had exaggerated the incident to burnish its security credentials ahead of a March 7 national election and that the lockdown of the city that was ordered was unnecessary.
"The government is trying to leave the citizens with the impression that there is a battle. They terrified and shocked the people," said Sunni legislator Saleh al-Mutlaq, whose party recently was barred from the upcoming election.
Government officials said the plot had involved sending suicide bombers, their vehicles packed with explosives, to blow themselves up at the Ministries of Defense, Health and Trade and at other public places, including markets. Other insurgents would then have been sent to assassinate political and tribal leaders, two security officials said.
"The situation is now stable," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "Security officials have now controlled all the key areas. There is nothing to worry about."
The government did not immediately say whom it thought responsible for the plot but has said in the past that elements of the outlawed Baathist Party of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida in Iraq were behind such attacks and plots.
A series of bombings outside or near government buildings since August has killed more than 400 people and wounded more than 1,500 in Baghdad, leading to deep public skepticism about the ability of the country's security forces to adequately protect people.
A crucial test ahead for nation's democracy
Al-Dabbagh said that the plot appeared to have been hatched to disrupt the upcoming election, the third national vote in Iraq since the United States-led invasion in 2003.
The balloting is regarded as a crucial test of Iraq's fragile democracy, and its outcome could determine whether U.S. forces are able to withdraw from the country on schedule by the end of 2011. "These groups that are targeting the election and the political process want to confuse the public," Al-Dabbagh said. "They want to bury this dream that all of us are waiting for."
Plans for the election have already become problematic. Last week, a parliamentary committee empowered to vet candidates rejected the party led by Al-Mutlaq and other political parties from running because of their alleged ties to the Baath Party, which is banned by the constitution.
Sunnis largely boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections, giving Shiite Muslims and Kurds disproportionate power in parliament and prompting increased violence in the country.
Hussein al-Shaalan, a member of parliament's defense and security committee, who said he had been briefed by Iraqi security official, said it had been unraveled with the help of the U.S. military. He said he had been told that the Americans notified the Iraqi government Monday evening that a numbers of bomb-laden vehicles had entered Baghdad. The U.S. military in Iraq had no comment.
Security forces raided buildings and the police searched for suicide car bombs, virtually locking down Baghdad on Tuesday. The bridges over the Tigris River were closed, and traffic was halted at Baghdad's myriad checkpoints for several hours.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.