BAGHDAD — In a dramatic revelation after a series of major security breaches, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has linked the assassinations of security officials to his government and said a "militia" of more than 400 men had been set up within the Interior Ministry, answerable only to an outside political figure he didn't name.
Speaking before his Cabinet in a live television broadcast late Tuesday, Maliki said "investigations, investigating committees and confessions" had indicated that assassinations were carried out using "government weapons, government cars and government IDs."
Some operations "have been done under the cover of some officials, in some ministries," he said, without going into detail.
"It's one thing to face an enemy that doesn't have real capabilities," he said. "But if the enemy is within your lines, and doesn't believe in the political process, the enemy will take benefit from government facilities to carry out these actions."
Never miss a local story.
Maliki blamed the country's continuing insecurity on political interference in the security ministries during the period after the March 2010 elections, when Iraq's politicians were arguing about forming a government. "What happened of late is a clear reflection of the confusion in the political process," he said.
"Those who have destroyed the Ministries of the Interior and Defense are we, the (political) parties, who come with a list and tell the officials, 'Employ these people.' "
Maliki said he found a list of 470 names that "one person," whom he didn't name, had presented to the Interior Ministry for hiring. "And they were employed!" he declared. "That means he formed a militia inside the ministry."
The individual in question had just been released from jail, where he'd been held on terrorism allegations, the prime minister said. He didn't identify the person, and government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh didn't respond to requests to elaborate.
Maliki had pledged May 11 to launch a thorough investigation of the Interior Ministry after al Qaida in Iraq terrorism suspects tried a few days earlier to break out of the main Interior Ministry compound in downtown Baghdad. He said that "connivance ... collaboration" and "infiltration" had led to the escape attempt, which resulted in the deaths of six police officers and 11 of the suspects.
In January, 12 detainees linked to al Qaida in Iraq escaped from a fortified prison in the southern city of Basra.
The prime minister put at least some of the blame for the security breaches — and possibly for attacks on Iraqi and U.S. forces — on the vast number of security guards, who are a feature of life now in Baghdad.
In an exchange with an unnamed security official who was attending the meeting, Maliki said that Iraqi authorities had found a wide range of illegal weapons in the arsenals of foreign security companies, many of which were within Baghdad's international zone, known during the period of the U.S. occupation as the "Green Zone."
The weapons included 53 improvised explosive devices as well as "hundreds of unauthorized weapons, sniper rifles, silencers and forged (identity) cards."
The security official, defending his work, said, "We closed the security companies whose contracts had expired, and they left the Green Zone after we confiscated their weapons."
Maliki responded: "Do the same thing with security companies outside the Green Zone."
The prime minister also chided politicians and ministers in his government for having vast security entourages — up to 50 vehicles, in some cases — and he said he'd shortly announce a maximum number of guards permitted.
Currently, he said, the Interior Ministry has provided 16,652 bodyguards to its officials and the Ministry of Defense has allotted 17,500.
"We believe that the need to increase guards has ended," he said. "That doesn't mean the director or minister should move without protection," he said, but that protection should be at the "old way," he said without being specific.
Some of the blame for the country's insecurity lies in the continuing battle between Maliki and politician Ayad Allawi after Allawi's Iraqiya List won a plurality of seats in the 2010 elections over the prime minister's Rule of Law bloc.
The two men agreed in December on a power-sharing arrangement that would give Allawi a key role in security policy, a breakthrough that established the new government. But a continuing disagreement over the government's composition and policies has resulted in Maliki himself taking the reins of the Interior and Defense ministries.
The prime minister's acknowledgement that "we, the parties" had helped destroy the security ministries was a sign of candor that's long been missing in most discussions of Iraq's security situation.
A major element of Maliki's message to the public was aimed at his fellow politicians, including those in his own Cabinet. "I hope those who can hear me will not be involved in the police and army," he said.
(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY