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BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Dozens of Iraqi security force members were involved in attacks that killed up to 112 people in Baghdad last week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Wednesday.
There is widespread suspicion in Iraq that the police and armed forces have been infiltrated by militants, take bribes to allow insurgents to mount attacks, or may be colluding with militants to undermine Maliki before a March 7 general election.
A series of high-profile attacks on supposedly secure government targets have killed hundreds in recent months and eroded Maliki’s ability to present himself as the man who turned around Iraqi security, a key plank of his election campaign.
Maliki vowed he would not let ongoing insurgent attacks influence the polls. He said there were at least 45 members of the security forces involved in the December 8 attack.
“The network was a large one, 24 from one arm of the Iraqi security forces, 13 from another, and eight or nine from another,” Maliki told a news conference without saying which branch of the security forces those involved came from.
Maliki promised a reward of around $85,500 to anyone who alerting the government to car bombs before they detonate. The reward would “get citizens involved in supporting the security service and remedy its deficiencies,” he said.
Large financial rewards have been offered in the past by the U.S. military for information on insurgent leaders.
U.S. combat troops pulled out of urban areas in June, leaving Iraqi forces to take the lead, but bombings have raised renewed questions about the competence of Iraqi security forces as U.S. troops prepare to fully withdraw by the end of 2011.
NO U.S. DRAWDOWN DELAY
Still, Maliki said the attacks would not delay the U.S. drawdown, echoing assurances from the U.S. administration that it will not alter plants to end combat operations by August 31 2010 and bring troop levels to 50,000 by then.
“As for the effect of these operations on the withdrawal, not at all. The withdrawal has been completely finalized with a defined timetable,” he said.
Maliki’s comments came days after the interior and defense ministers got a lengthy grilling from lawmakers angry about the spate of high-profile bombings.
In October, bombs near the Justice Ministry and Baghdad governor’s offices killed 155 people, and blasts near the Foreign and Finance Ministries in August killed 95.
On Tuesday, more bombings close to Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone government complex killed four people.
Maliki’s comments add a new dimension to investigations into the December 8 attacks, which the Shi’ite Muslim-led government initially blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and members of Saddam Hussein’s banned Sunni-dominated Baath party.
Some believe political jockeying between Iraq’s fractious ethnic and sectarian groups ahead of the March polls has given insurgents an opportunity to stage more high-impact attacks.
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the worst of the sectarian bloodshed unleashed after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Missy Ryan and Jon Hemming)