|BAGHDAD ? Iraq's prime minister put his nation on its highest level of alert for terror
attacks, warning of plots to sow fear and chaos as the U.S. combat mission in the country
formally ends on Tuesday.
The Iraqi security forces who will be left in charge have been hammered by bomb attacks,
prompting fears of a new insurgent offensive and criticism of the government's
preparedness for the American troop drawdown.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that Iraqi intelligence indicated an al-Qaida front
group and members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party are collaborating to launch
attacks to create fear and chaos and kill more innocents.
We direct the Iraqi forces, police and army and other security forces, to take the highest
alert and precautionary measures to foil this criminal planning, al-Maliki said in a statement
to state-run television.
A senior Iraqi intelligence official said security forces believe suicide bombers have entered
the country with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad by month's end. The official
did not know how many bombers or where they would attack, and spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, used his weekly radio address to reaffirm his
campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and refocus on Afghanistan as home to the top
threats against America.
The bottom line is this: the war is ending, Obama said from the Massachusetts island
retreat of Martha's Vineyard, where he was on vacation. Like any sovereign, independent
nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course.
Al-Maliki said insurgents would try to exploit widespread frustration with years of frequent
power outages and problems with other public services by staging riots and attacks on
They will also work on taking advantage of some of the crises of services ... to spread
chaos, he said.
Hours after his remarks, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for
more than two dozen bombings and shootings across the nation this week that killed 56
people ? more than half of them Iraqi soldiers and policemen.
In a statement posted on a militant website Saturday, the group said the coordinated
attacks targeted the headquarters and centers and security barriers for the army and the
Insurgents have intensified attacks on Iraqi police and soldiers, making August the deadliest
month for Iraqi security personnel in two years: On average, five were killed each day.
Under a security agreement between Washington and Baghdad, all U.S. troops are to be
out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Last year, as a benchmark toward that deadline, Obama
ordered the end of unilateral U.S. combat missions and the return of all but 50,000 troops
by Aug. 31. After that, the U.S. military will focus on training and advising Iraqi troops,
although Americans can still go on combat patrols with Iraqi soldiers and police if asked.
But the primary responsibility for protecting the nation is in the hands of an Iraqi security
force that has largely failed to win the country's confidence.
In a major embarrassment this month for Iraq's U.S.-trained forces, a suicide bomber was
able to walk up undetected to an army recruitment station crowded with hundreds of
applicants and kill 61 people. The Aug. 17 attack was the single deadliest act of violence in
the capital in months.
More than half of the 445 Iraqi security personnel killed this year ? including soldiers, police,
police recruits and bodyguards ? died between June and August, according to an
Associated Press count.
The prime minister seemed to recognize that security forces alone would not be able to
stop the attacks, and he appealed to citizens to be vigilant.
We call on the nation to have open eyes to monitor the movements of those terrorists
and keep such criminal gangs from halting the progress of our nation.
Al-Maliki is locked in a power struggle to keep his job nearly six months after a
parliamentary election that failed to produce a clear winner.
The political coalition led by al-Maliki, a Shiite, narrowly came in second place to a
Sunni-backed alliance in the March 7 vote.
Iraq's political factions have been battling since to work out a power-sharing agreement.
U.S. and Iraqi officials fear the political impasse could lead to increased violence.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the prime minister's statement
aimed to embolden security troops who will face challenges after the withdrawal of the
American combat forces.
The terrorist groups are intending to escalate their terrorist operations during the coming
days to influence the process of the American withdrawal, to cast doubt on the ability of the
Iraqi forces taking charge of the security and to take advantage of political instability,
Associated Press Writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.