Violence kills dozens in Iraq

New parliament convenes for its first working session


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A spurt in violence left dozens of Iraqis dead yesterday as the first working session of the nation's new parliament, which is aimed at stemming bloodshed by drawing Iraq's disparate ethnic and religious groups into the political arena, was convened.

In restive Fallujah, dominated by Sunni Arabs, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-laden belt set off a blast amid a crowd of aspiring police recruits, killing 18 Iraqis and injuring 20, police and hospital officials said. The U.S. military said in a statement that at least seven civilians were killed and 13 wounded in the attack.

Police in Baghdad reported a surge in death-squad-style killings. At least 34 bodies of men bearing marks of torture and shot once in the head have been found in and around the capital since Tuesday morning.

The lawmakers meeting yesterday formed an 11-member rules committee but put off a potentially divisive discussion on proposed changes in the constitution until a Cabinet has been appointed and approved.

Addressing lawmakers in a conference room inside the tightly secured Green Zone, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the newly elected speaker of the Council of Representatives, said the lawmakers would be productive and would avoid negative politics.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim political activist, has three weeks to form a government acceptable to rival Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Political negotiators have been haggling over ministerial posts in talks that could determine the quality of the national government.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that no decisions on possible U.S. troop withdrawals are likely before Iraq's new Cabinet is seated. He expects further U.S. troop reductions once consultations are held with the new Cabinet ministers, he said.

U.S. plans calls for 15 brigades totaling 130,000 soldiers to be sent to Iraq this summer, down from the 17 brigades originally planned. But the Pentagon is talking to U.S. commanders in Iraq about further reductions.

Rumsfeld said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Army Gen. George W. Casey, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, won't make a final recommendation on troop levels until they discuss the security situation with a new Iraqi Cabinet.

"But I do expect that after that happens, they will be having those discussions and that as we pass over more responsibility, we ought to be able to reduce our forces," he said.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Kurdish foreign minister, said yesterday that talks on assembling a Cabinet had made progress.

Outside the Green Zone, violence, which had subsided since the naming of the government, appeared to be accelerating.

The deputy governor of Nineveh province, which includes the northern city of Mosul, survived an assassination attempt yesterday. A roadside bomb targeting the convoy of Kisro Goran wounded one of his guards, said an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the deputy governor's political organization.

A makeshift bomb wounded 11 people and damaged shops in a market in a Shiite district of northern Baghdad, police said.

In northwestern Baghdad, authorities found 14 bodies, part of a wave of killings of suspected Sunni insurgents or sympathizers with ties to the security forces.

A U.S. soldier died in a noncombat-related incident in Baghdad, the military said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times reporters Zainab Hussein, Saif Rasheed and Peter Spiegel contributed to this article.

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