Iraqi VP demands end to Shiite militias

October 30, 2006|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American-led forces said they killed 17 suspected insurgents early yesterday in a strife-racked area north of Baghdad, while gunmen ambushed and killed 17 Iraqi police officers near the southern city of Basra.

In Baghdad's Sadr City slum today, a bomb targeting poor Iraqi Shiites lining up for day jobs killed at least 31 people and wounded more than 50 others, police said. The bomb tore through a collection of food stalls and kiosks about 6:15 a.m.

And political tension deepened in Baghdad when Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's highest-ranking Sunni politician, threatened to resign if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not act quickly to eradicate two feared Shiite militias.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, depends heavily on the backing of the two Shiite political parties that run the militias and has resisted American pressure to eradicate the private armies - the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Brigade, the military wing of Iraq's biggest Shiite political bloc, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Shiite gunmen, especially those of the Mahdi Army, are deeply involved in the sectarian killings that have brutalized Baghdad and central Iraq for months.

The latest bursts of violence came as U.S. and Iraqi leaders have sought to ease differences over the best way to deal with armed Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim groups responsible for killing hundreds of people in back-and-forth violence in recent months.

On Saturday, al-Maliki urged President Bush to give him more authority over security forces as part of a bid to battle Sunni insurgents and curb Shiite militias tied to groups that are part of his political following. There were no reports yesterday of new discussions between the two administrations over security issues.

Dozens of Iraqi police and soldiers have been killed in attacks during the past week.

In yesterday's attack south of Basra, which is mostly populated by Shiites, gunmen stopped a minivan and killed the 17 police officers on board, said Capt. Tane Dunlop, a British military spokesman.

In a sign that death-squad killings were resuming in earnest after a brief downturn in numbers, more than 30 bodies, many bearing signs of torture, were discovered in various areas of Baghdad. The body counts from sectarian violence had fallen last week during the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In fighting near the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, U.S. aircraft struck at two bands of guerrillas armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons who were preparing attacks on troops, the military said in a statement. The first strike killed four militants; the second, carried out in concert with ground troops, killed 13, the military said.

The attacks set off secondary explosions, the military said, suggesting that the insurgents were carrying improvised bombs or other ordnance.

No U.S. troops were hurt, and three suspected militants were detained, the statement said.

Police in Duluiyah, near Balad, said a U.S. shell hit a house, killing 11 people and injuring six others. It was not immediately clear whether it was the same incident as described by the U.S. military.

The largely Shiite city of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been locked in conflict with its Sunni neighbors. The violence escalated earlier this month after 14 Shiite construction workers from Balad were slain in Duluiyah. Those slayings set off a day of reprisal attacks against Sunnis in Balad, leaving dozens dead.

In neighboring Diyala province, five Iraqi soldiers were killed yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded in the town of Buhriz, just outside of Baqouba.

In a pair of incidents, gunmen in Diyala killed seven Sunni pilgrims on their way to Mecca. In Baqouba, assailants shot and killed two Iraqi police officers and a civilian, authorities said.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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