Iraqi bombers sentenced to death

Iraqi court sentences 11 men to death over devastating blasts in Baghdad that killed more than 100 people in August.

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An Iraqi court sentenced 11 men to death today, including al Qa'eda militants, over devastating lorry bombs in Baghdad that killed more than 100 people in August and dealt a harsh blow to the government. The trial was the first to convict suspects arrested in the wake of three major attacks in the second half of 2009 that saw insurgents defy the war-torn country's fledgling security forces and penetrate the heart of the capital.

"They are sentenced to death for the crime they planned," Ali Abdul Sattar, president of the criminal court, said at a hearing in the Iraqi capital. The August 19 attacks just minutes apart outside the ministries of finance and foreign affairs caused massive destruction, killed 106 people and wounded around 600 others. Those convicted included Salim Abed Jassim who confessed that he received funding for the attacks from Brigadier General Nabil Abdul Rahman, a senior army officer during the rule of Saddam Hussein now living in Syria.

Also sentenced to death by hanging were Ishaq Mohammed Abbas, an al Qa'eda in Iraq leader and his brother Mustapha, the court official told AFP. Both men had once been detained but were later released from Camp Bucca, a now closed US-run prison in the southern city of Basra. "These men were the brains behind the attacks in August," a security official involved in an investigation into the August 19 attacks said on condition of anonymity.

"The others bought the explosives and transported them into Baghdad," he added. The August 19 lorry attacks on what was dubbed "Black Wednesday" marked Iraq's worst day of violence in 18 months and prompted outrage among citizens at how the bombers had been able to commit such atrocities. The government, which blamed the bombings on al Qa'eda and Saddam loyalists from the executed dictator's outlawed Baath party, admitted at the time that negligence at checkpoints allowed the attackers to enter the capital.

Despite outrage over the August 19 atrocities, bombers managed to commit similar carnage in October and December, when they again struck government buildings in attacks that killed at least 280 people and wounded 1,000 more. The attacks were a severe blow to prime minister Nuri al Maliki's largely successful efforts to portray himself as a guardian of security ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections now scheduled for March 7.

Violence in Iraq dropped dramatically in 2009 to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion, figures showed on January 1, but a monitoring group warned that security gains were levelling off. According to an AFP tally of figures released by the defence, interior and health ministries, a total of 2,800 civilians were killed by violence last year, less than half of 2008's toll of 5,886. Iraq Body Count (IBC), an independent Britain-based group, however, put the civilians toll at 4,497 and said while there had been "significant improvements" in security in 2009, "such violence still afflicts Iraq's population more than any other."

The second half of 2009 saw around the same number of civilian deaths as the first, which IBC said "may indicate that the situation is no longer improving." * AFP