Nearly 90 are killed in Baghdad

Tension tied to federalism proposal

wave of violence contradicts U.S. claims

September 14, 2006|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Amid rising political tensions over a proposal to carve Iraq into separate federal regions, nearly 90 people were reported killed yesterday in an explosion of violence across Baghdad that cast doubt on U.S. claims that the city is on its way to being pacified.

The toll included dozens of corpses found dumped around various Baghdad neighborhoods and the deaths of at least 22 people in a series of bombings and mortar attacks targeting security forces and government institutions.

Many of the bodies were bound, shot execution-style and bore marks of torture -- hallmarks of the shadowy death squads roaming the city and claiming more lives than the bombs still exploding with regularity. The U.S. military also reported the deaths of two American soldiers, one of them Tuesday south of Baghdad and one Monday in the insurgent-infested province of Anbar.

Yesterday's toll was unusually high even by Baghdad's grim standards and brought to 65 the number of bodies found in the previous 48 hours.

Gen. Abdul Karim al-Kinani, spokesman for the police National Command Center, said 51 of those were found in the 24-hour period through last night, scattered around different Baghdad neighborhoods. The U.S. military said it could confirm the discovery of only 13 bodies, but initial U.S. daily casualty counts are often lower than those provided by Iraqi police and health institutions because U.S. forces are not routinely present in all Baghdad areas.

Most of the bodies were found in the predominantly Sunni western half of the capital, with a smaller number found in the mostly Shiite eastern side. Sunni political leaders say that a majority of the victims are Sunnis and that they are being targeted by shadowy death squads with ties either to the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry or to powerful Shiite militias. But no one has ever provided a breakdown of the victims by sect, and a significant percentage of them typically remain unidentified.

With an average of about 50 people dying every day in Baghdad, the relentless violence is jeopardizing U.S. hopes that a new security operation in the capital, launched with much fanfare in early August, will succeed in tamping down the bloodletting.

Operation Together Forward saw the deployment of an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Baghdad to bolster a push to reclaim control of some of the city's most troubled neighborhoods.

U.S. military officials say the effort does appear to have produced results in the five or so key neighborhoods targeted, almost all of them in the predominantly Sunni western half of the capital. "In the focused areas we have cleared and identified as having a propensity for violence, the violence has definitely fallen," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad.

The top American military spokesman in Iraq stirred controversy last week after he said there had been a 52 percent drop in the number of civilians killed in August in Baghdad compared with the previous month. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell did not give a total figure but said the percentage fall applied to "murders, execution, indirect fire, IEDs" -- or improvised explosive devices, a term the military uses to refer to bombs.

After a Health Ministry figure released the next day appeared to contradict that, the U.S. military said its estimate had been intended to include only murders and executions, and not bombings or mortar attacks.

The surge in violence also coincides with mounting political tensions as the nation's lawmakers grapple with the contentious issue of federalism, one that underpins much of the sectarian rivalry behind the tit-for-tat killings of Sunnis and Shiites.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, one of the leading Shiite political groups in the governing alliance, said it would push ahead with plans to introduce legislation at next Tuesday's parliamentary session.

Liz Sly writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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