Sunday, March 12, 2006

Attacks Kill 39 in Baghdad Shiite Slum

Attacks Kill 39 in Baghdad Shiite Slum: Sunday, March 12, 2006
By ALEXANDRA ZAVIS, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber and a car bomb ripped apart a market Sunday in a Shiite slum in Baghdad, killing at least 39 people and wounding more than 100. The carnage came shortly after Iraqi politicians decided to convene parliament three days earlier than planned, suggesting some progress in efforts to form a unity government.

The death toll in Sadr City was sure to rise as residents, many firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air, raced to and fro to collect charred corpses from among burning vehicles and shops.

Angry residents kicked the head of the suicide bomber, apparently an African, as it lay in the street of the al-Hay market in the east Baghdad neighborhood.

Smoke billowed into the air and fires continued to burn after the huge explosions, which demolished many shops.

Police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said police were trying to defuse a second explosives-laden car nearby. Four mortar rounds also reportedly slammed to earth nearby.

It was the second major attack targeting members of the Shiite majority in less than three weeks. On Feb. 22, the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the mostly Sunni city of Samarra, triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis that pushed     Iraq to the brink of civil war.

On March 4, Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, predicted another such attack by terrorists trying to spark all-out sectarian conflict in the country.

"They'll find some other place that's undefended, they'll strike it and they'll hope for more sectarian violence," the general said after a two-day visit to Baghdad.

Across town, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with leaders of Iraq's main ethnic and religious blocs in a bid to broker the end of a stalemate over the formation of a unity government Washington hopes can stabilize the country so its troops can begin going home in the summer.

While moving the parliament's first session forward suggested some progress, none of those present indicated any breakthrough was made.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, stood by Shiite leader Adbul-Aziz al-Hakim and other Kurdish, Sunni Arab and secular leaders to make the announcement about the parliament, telling reporters that meetings would continue daily until there is agreement on key government positions and other issues.

Khalilzad said a permanent government needed to be in place quickly to fill the "vacuum in authority" at a time of continuing effort by "terrorists to provoke sectarian conflict."

"To deal with the threat, (there is) the need on an urgent basis to form a government of national unity," Khalilzad said. He added that he would be available at any time to join the political negotiations.

Al-Hakim, head of the powerful Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, agreed forming a government was imperative.

"We have to get Iraq out of the situation it is in now," al-Hakim said.

Separately, the U.S. Embassy issued an order prohibiting government employees from using commercial airlines leaving the capital's international airport, citing a "recent security incident."

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the largest Sunni bloc and Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni representing Ayad Allawi, a Shiite and former prime minister, also attended the meeting at Kurdish Democratic Party headquarters in the heavily fortified Green Zone. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, was not there but met earlier Sunday with Talabani.

The issue of forming a new government appeared to take on added urgency days before key military leaders were expected to make recommendations on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in meetings later this week with     President Bush in Washington.

The convening of parliament will start a 60-day clock on electing a new president, approving a prime minister and signing off on his Cabinet. The decision came just two days after Talabani issued a decree calling parliament into session for the first time since Dec. 15 elections on March 19.

The U.S. ambassador, who has expressed increasing frustration over the political bickering in recent weeks, seemed particularly eager to publicize the meeting. His office took the unusual step of announcing it in advance and inviting reporters to a photo session and news conference afterward.

Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman indicated the timing of the session may have been due to a threat from Massoud Barzani, the president of one of two Kurdish provinces, to leave the capital if no progress was made. Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, also was at Sunday's meeting.

In other violence Sunday, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol on a busy street in a mostly Sunni area of the capital killed at least six people and wounded 12, police said.

Drive-by shooters killed three occupants of a car in west Baghdad, including a member of Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, police said. And a rocket landed near a house, killing one occupant and injuring two others.

In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed and killed a police major as he headed to work, police said.

A roadside bomb also hit a police convoy in Baquouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing one patrolman and wounding four others, police said

U.S. forces also clashed with gunmen Sunday afternoon in western Baghdad, Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. An AP Television News cameraman reported that a U.S. helicopter landed nearby to remove casualties. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

The "warden's message" distributed to the American community about the use of commercial airlines did not disclose the nature of the security incident that prompted the ban.

A spokesman for Royal Jordanian Airlines, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said two suspicious objects were found inside a cigarette package on the tarmac as passengers were going through a final security check before boarding a plane on Saturday. The flight left after a 3 1/2-hour delay.
Key Related Blog:

No comments: