No letup in sectarian rage

Large-scale violence persists as Iraqi prime minister pleads for `brotherhood, love'

July 11, 2006|By J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | J. MICHAEL KENNEDY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pleaded for "brotherhood and love" to unite a splintered nation unraveling in the face of large-scale sectarian violence a day after the execution-style killings of dozens of Iraqis in the capital.

But only hours before he spoke to the Kurdish regional parliament in the relatively safe northern city of Irbil, two bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Baghdad, raising the death toll to more than 70 since a deadly religious rampage began Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV conceded that the deployment of 50,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops to secure the streets of Baghdad had fallen behind in its goal to restore order, saying that "we still have tremendous inroads to make in that area."

The U.S. military in Baghdad also identified the five other soldiers charged in the rape of a teenage Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family. Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard all face the equivalent of a military grand jury to determine if they should be tried.

Yribe is charged with dereliction of duty for allegedly failing to report the attack. The others face rape and murder charges. They join Steven D. Green, a former private who was charged last week in federal court in Charlotte, N.C., with one count of rape and four of murder.

An al-Qaida-linked group has claimed it killed three U.S. soldiers last month and mutilated two of their bodies to avenge the March 12 rape-murder, an institute that monitors extremists Web sites said today.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council made the claim in a video it posted on the Internet that included images of the mutilated bodies of two of the soldiers attacked June 16 near Youssifiyah, the SITE Institute said.

According to the institute, the insurgent group said the video was released as "revenge for our sister who was dishonored by a soldier of the same brigade."

Yesterday morning's bombings, which occurred in an eastern section of the city largely controlled by a radical Shiite militia, came on the heels of a weekend round of sectarian fighting that was gruesome even by Baghdad standards. According to police and witnesses, Shiite militiamen manning checkpoints in the religiously mixed Jihad neighborhood killed Sunni motorists at point-blank range and dragged others from their homes before gunning them down. Sunnis responded by setting up roadblocks of their own, and a Shiite family of five was killed.

In his address to the Kurdish parliament, al-Maliki told the lawmakers that "all the good people from the modern world stand with us to oppose terrorism, and this is our precious chance and we should take the fruits of it."

He said re-establishing basic services, encouraging national reconciliation and rebuilding the security forces were the three steps needed to return stability to the country.

"We are not done yet facing the challenges," he said. "Now many are falling in the streets and many innocents are being targeted, but I am sure we cannot be defeated."

But on a day in which the prime minister attempted to project hope, the reality on the streets of Baghdad is that the city seems to be moving in a downward spiral. A bomb exploded in a market area of downtown Baghdad, killing four and wounding 28 others, police said. Later in the day, Iraqi soldiers found three bodies on a bus parked on the side of the road in Baghdad's Ameriah neighborhood. In the city's Dora neighborhood, authorities imposed afternoon and overnight curfews after clashes between residents and Shiite militiamen.

J. Michael Kennedy writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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