Iraqi anti-violence plan

Political-party leaders want local committees to help in Baghdad

October 03, 2006|By Solomon Moore | Solomon Moore,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Leaders of Iraq's major political blocs announced a plan yesterday to create local committees of clerics, tribal leaders and military officers to help quell violence in the capital.

The local committees, which would have no police powers, would work with Iraqi police to set up checkpoints and identify dangerous elements in the community, and advise officers on other security issues.

The government also announced that a central committee for peace and security would monitor police performance in Baghdad's neighborhood and report abuses.

The plan, unveiled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a televised news conference, appeared to garner broad support among Iraq's major Sunni and Shiite political blocs last night.

Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias, some of them tied to Iraq's leading political parties, are blamed for most of the deaths in the capital, which has been a sectarian battleground for more than a year.

"The agreement between the leaders of the political blocs is going to be activated tonight and our brothers will work hard to stop the bloodshed," said al-Maliki, flanked by political-party leaders in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

Although the plan appears to conflict with a Shiite proposal to create bands of armed volunteers to guard neighborhoods, Shiite politicians and clerics endorsed al-Maliki's announcement yesterday.

"Despite the bloodshed taking place everyday, there is a strong intention by the political blocs," said Hadi Amri, leader of the Badr militia, one of Iraq's two largest Shiite militias. "During the last two days, we sensed a universal desire to stop the violence, which is harming all the political blocs and most importantly, the Iraqi people."

Shiite cleric and legislator Jalal al-Din Saghir urged Iraqis to work with the plan: "I hope that people from all sects will take this message presented today from the political blocs and understand that the politicians have agreed and not weaken in their fight against terror," he said.

Ammar Wajeeh, a prominent Sunni Arab politician, was more cautious. "We will see whether this agreement will be effective or not," he said. "The purpose of this initiative is to strengthen national reconciliation and to end the influence of militias."

The security announcement came less than a week after senior U.S. military officials in Iraq told reporters that al-Maliki, a Shiite, was not doing enough to stanch sectarian violence in Baghdad, and that he was impeding planned offensives against Shiite paramilitary fighters.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of ground forces in Iraq, disavowed that criticism last week. Yesterday, he issued a joint statement with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, saying the plan was the result of "two days of frank and intense discussions and negotiation."

Even as the politicians announced their plan, Sharqiya, an Iraqi satellite television channel, announced that violent deaths in the capital reached a record high of 1,980 in September. That figure could not be confirmed independently last night, but if correct, it would undercut assertions by U.S. officials that a military offensive in the capital is making headway against sectarian violence.

The announcement also came on a day when Baghdad police found at least 40 bodies, many of them handcuffed and showing gunshot and torture wounds. Ten of the victims were identified as Sunni Arabs who had been among 22 people kidnapped Sunday from a food processing plant.

At least 20 more people were killed in violence throughout Iraq yesterday, including two U.S. soldiers shot in the capital.

The U.S. military announced yesterday the death of a Marine during combat Saturday in Anbar province; Another Marine died in a noncombat accident Saturday in the province, the military said.

In Baghdad, gunmen dressed in police uniforms and driving seven identical Nissan sport utility vehicles commonly used by Iraqi security forces abducted 14 employees from an electronics market. Interior Ministry officials disavowed the raid.

A group of armed men hijacked a minibus, fatally shot the driver in the head and kidnapped four female Iraqi Finance Ministry employees. Police fought off the attackers, and rescued the women.

Gunmen also shot at an Education Ministry security convoy, killing one guard and injuring another.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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