Scores die as discord, violence sweep Iraq

October 16, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Months of bloodshed have strained the bonds holding together Iraq's fractious government, with tensions among political blocs spilling out in recent days in fiery rhetoric and fighting that left at least 130 people dead nationwide.

Disagreements burst into the open with a divisive vote on the issue of parceling Iraq into federal districts, finger-pointing over the assassination of a top politician's brother, and bloody massacres between Shiite and Sunni Muslims north of the capital.

There, among the lush palm groves and towns along the Tigris River, at least 73 people were killed in weekend sectarian violence. Shiite gunmen, seeking revenge for the beheadings of 26 Shiite farmers whose bodies were found in Sunni villages, marauded through the farming hub of Balad, about 50 miles north of the capital, officials said. The attackers killed Sunni men in the market, hospitals and a used-car lot, with 12 victims reportedly burned to death.

Sunni tribesmen in farms outside Balad fired mortar rounds into the Shiite-dominated town and were preparing for further fighting. U.S. forces imposed a curfew on the area.

Meanwhile, authorities awaited the fate of groups of Shiite men kidnapped from minibuses over the weekend on their way out of the nearby Shiite village of Dujail.

Also yesterday, six car bombs killed about 10 people and injured dozens around the northern city of Kirkuk, claimed by Arabs as well as ethnic Kurds who inhabit a semiautonomous section of northern Iraq. In the capital, at least 52 Iraqis, including two children, were killed in shootings, rocket attacks, bombings and sectarian killings.

Three U.S. solders were killed Saturday when their vehicle was caught in the blast of a homemade bomb south of Baghdad, the military said. At least 52 U.S. military personnel died in Iraq during the first two weeks of the month, putting October on pace to be the deadliest for U.S. troops here since January 2005.

Iraq's Sunni insurgents are fighting a guerrilla war against U.S. forces and the Shiite- and Kurd-dominated government. Shiite gunmen, with possible ties to powerful political parties, fight back by killing suspected insurgents and ordinary Sunnis alike. Many Iraqis call the waves of violence a civil war tempered only by the political process.

But relations between the main Sunni and Shiite political blocs also have worsened in the past week. Yesterday, the government postponed indefinitely a conference to discuss reconciliation between Iraq's disparate groups that was to begin Saturday. According to a news release, the conference was canceled for unspecified "emergency reasons."

Acrimony between the country's major ethnic and religious groups swelled after Iraq's parliament passed a law Wednesday allowing for the eventual division of Iraq into federal regions. The vote came despite the objections of Sunnis, who view the plan as a recipe for dismembering Iraq.

Iraq's main Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, issued a statement yesterday all but accusing the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry in the killing Oct. 9 of Amer Hashimi, brother of Tariq Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents and the Sunni bloc's leader.

"The cars that broke through the [Iraqi army] checkpoints were new military cars, and there were people inside it wearing military uniforms," the statement said. "This is available only to the militias that are cooperating with the security apparatuses."

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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