BAGHDAD, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- The ability of Iraqi insurgents to repeatedly carry out murderous suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad marks a critical intelligence failure for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's security services.
But that isn't surprising since after the Aug. 19 attacks on the Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries he sacked nearly 12,000 officials supposedly suspected of dealings with the outlawed Baath Party of the late President Saddam Hussein, which has been accused of the deadly attacks.
Many Iraqis believe that Maliki, who faces parliamentary elections slated for January after breaking with his Shiite political allies, is out to establish himself as the nation's strongman.
His drive to take direct control of Iraq's security services began months before the August bombings.
In December 2008 there was a major crackdown in the Interior Ministry, at that time run by Maliki's Shiite rivals. It controls a large part of the security apparatus.
At least 23 officials, including generals and colonels, were arrested. Iraqi officials implied that they were part of a coup plot involving al-Awda (The Return), the successor to Saddam's Baathist apparatus.
The ministry denied there was a coup plot. However, the arrests were widely seen as politically motivated to weaken Maliki's rivals before provincial elections that were held in January 2009 and in which he made significant gains.
In early September, following the first rash of suicide bombings against the heart of government in Baghdad, Maliki sacked several senior generals at the Interior Ministry.
His officials explained these as "reassignments" in the aftermath of the bombings. But there was more likely another motive: All the officers were allies of Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a secular Shiite who will be one of Maliki's main rivals in the January 2010 polling.
Whatever the reason, the bombers struck again on Oct. 25, blasting two more ministries and killing at least 160 people even though the so-called Green Zone is protected by 50 roadblocks and 10,000 troops and security personnel.
A more telling point is that the bombings continued despite the fact that Maliki now controls Iraq's entire security and intelligence system -- which could rebound on him in January.
He has centralized power for himself to the extent that he has formed two paramilitary forces, the Baghdad Brigade -- also known as "the Dirty Squad" for its nocturnal sweeps arresting Maliki's critics, particularly Sunnis -- and the Counter-Terrorism Force. Both report directly to him.
Maliki has cemented his control over the nation's security forces by recruiting tribal militias funded by his office and seizing the power of appointing or dismissing army officers, bypassing the chief of staff who should have that authority.
In the eyes of many, this has transformed the army into a well-armed prime ministerial militia.
The various security services established under the Americans' tutelage have long been wracked by sectarian rivalries and rampant corruption, with agendas that have not always followed that of the central government.
Indeed, the agencies the Americans created are widely seen as Frankenstein organizations that conducted clandestine assassination programs against those who opposed the U.S. presence.
If that's the case, Maliki, by all accounts, has simply reforged them for his own purposes: ensuring his political control.
Maliki also controls the Security Ministry, which is headed by Sheerwan al-Waeli, a Shiite of Iranian origin.
Waeli, a member of Maliki's Dawa party, was long at odds with the director general of Iraq's National Intelligence Service, Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, a Sunni and former officer in Saddam's army who masterminded an abortive coup plot against the late dictator.
In August, Maliki forced Shahwani to resign (he subsequently fled to the United States), sacked three top men in Bolani's Interior Ministry and replaced several army and police commanders.
Shahwani had plotted against Saddam and had close ties with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency from 1990 on. The NIS was set up and funded by the CIA in April 2004.
It employed many veterans of Saddam's hated security services. This was largely because they were the only professionals available and, from the U.S. standpoint, had spent decades combating Iran's massive intelligence apparatus.
Now they've gone and the bombings continue.