BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday he intends to remove concrete barriers from Baghdad, despite little sign of a respite from car bombs they were designed to thwart, and give a greater role to the Interior Ministry in securing the capital.
Baghdad, like the rest of Iraq, faces suicide and car bombings claimed by Islamic State militants, and sectarian violence which recalls the height of a civil war in 2006-2007.
On Saturday at least 23 people were killed in a wave of car bombs across the city. Iraqi security forces have been fighting for weeks to contain and push back Islamic State fighters from territory to the south, west and north of the capital.
Abadi praise what he called “excellent” security operations in Baghdad, and his comments suggested he aimed to reduce the army’s security role in the city of 7 million people.
“The next phase will witness the Interior Ministry taking over the security file for Baghdad and we intend to remove the concrete barriers in the city of Baghdad and to open up streets,” the prime minister was quoted as saying after a meeting on Monday night with security officials.
Similar pledges were made by former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, but only partially implemented, and Abadi’s spokesman played down any prospect of immediate action.
“There needs to be careful and studied plans before handing the security file to the Interior Ministry and we aim for the Interior Ministry to receive the security file in all of the provinces, not just Baghdad,” spokesman Rafid Jaburi said.
Baghdad’s concrete barriers were first put up during the U.S. occupation that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003 as an insurgency began raging.
“Four or five years ago there was an attempt to open many streets. But unfortunately there was a strong attack (at the Foreign Ministry) which made us close more areas,” Abadi told the Baghdad operations command centre in remarks broadcast on state television.
Reporting by Said Hameed and Raheem Salman; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Dominic Evans