Iraqi premier orders army shake-up after attacks


BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister has ordered a shake-up of his military command after a weeklong spike of militant attacks that has killed nearly 300 people, by far the highest toll since the U.S. withdrew its forces in late 2011, an official said Wednesday.

The shake-up will include commanders of divisions and operations, said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Moussawi.

It indicates the depth of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's dissatisfaction with the military for failing to keep the peace in the country, which is instead hurtling downhill toward the brink of sectarian civil war. As premier, al-Maliki is the commander in chief of the armed forces.

In violence Wednesday, militants shot up a brothel in Baghdad in an apparent morals attack, killing 14 people.

The military shake-up follows the surge of car bombs and shootings that have shaken many Iraqi cities over the past week, killing at least 279 people and further raising tensions between Sunnis and the Shiite-led government. The escalation echoes the carnage of Iraq's worst sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

The blitz coincides with Sunni-organized protests over complaints of discrimination by the Shiite-led government. Beginning in December, the Sunni protests started out largely peaceful. However, the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.

Another factor adding to unease in Iraq is the prospect of the civil war in neighboring Syria spilling across the border. Like Iraq, the conflict in Syria is becoming more sectarian, pitting majority Sunnis against minority Alawites, who follow an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Some violent incidents linked to Syria have already taken place inside Iraq.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks in Iraqi cities, but such well-organized operations bear the hallmarks of the two elements that have brought nearly nonstop chaos to Iraq for years: Sunni insurgents including al-Qaida's branch in Iraq, and Shiite militias defending their newfound power after dictator Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003.

In another development, militants broke into a brothel Wednesday afternoon in Baghdad's eastern Zayona neighborhood, killing 10 women and four men, a police officer said. The gunmen sped up in five cars and were armed with pistols fitted with silencers, he said.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figure. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Police said the attack appeared to be on a religious background, with Muslim extremists attacking the brothel for moral reasons.

Since 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam, the business of running nightclubs, brothels and selling pornographic videos has flourished as authorities are busy with bigger challenges. Sunni and Shiite extremist militant groups alike have launched campaigns of intimidation and violence targeting brothels, alcohol, racy videos and other items they considered forbidden by Islam.