U.S. intelligence director visits Iraq

He confers with prime minister

3 Marines among dozens killed

November 04, 2006|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S. national intelligence director, John D. Negroponte, met yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during an unannounced visit, the second stop this week by a top Bush administration official amid signs of strain between the two governments.

Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, visited as dozens more died in the continuing violence. Authorities in Baghdad, where sectarian killing has been especially intense, reported yesterday that they had discovered 27 more bodies, many of them with multiple gunshot wounds and marks of torture.

The latest violence included a mortar attack on a home in Baghdad that killed three members of a family and the fatal shooting of a Shiite cleric's bodyguard in Najaf, in south-central Iraq.

The U.S. military said troops killed 13 suspected insurgents and seized a cache of explosives during two raids in Mahmoudiyah, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents south of Baghdad.

One of the dead insurgents was wearing an explosive vest when he was killed, and several appeared to be non-Iraqis, the military said without elaborating.

The military also said three Marines had been killed in combat a day earlier in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The Marines, who were not identified, were members of Regimental Combat Team 7.

Negroponte met with top officials of the Shiite-led government on security matters. Al-Maliki has publicly sought to gain a wider role for his forces in addressing the sectarian violence that has shaken the country in recent months.

The prime minister's spokesman said the sessions were part of a new drive to coordinate security efforts after the prime minister's videoconference with President Bush last Saturday. Al-Maliki urged Bush to give Iraqi forces a freer hand in dealing with the militias behind much of the killing.

"Negroponte has confirmed the support of the American administration to the security issue in Iraq and the government, and its plan to have more say in Iraqi security issues," said Ali Dabbagh, the prime minister's spokesman.

Negroponte arrived four days after Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, met with Iraqi leaders as al-Maliki sought to assert his independence.

On Tuesday, U.S. troops in Baghdad withdrew from a cordon of roadblocks around the vast Sadr City slum and the Karada neighborhood soon after al-Maliki, under pressure from Shiite militants and other residents, ordered them removed.

Al-Maliki had previously declared that he was "not America's man in Iraq." U.S. officials have not gotten al-Maliki to agree to timelines for progress on curbing armed groups and making other changes.

The Bush administration wants the prime minister to act more forcefully against Shiite militias, such as the one tied to firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement is part of al-Maliki's coalition.

But al-Maliki and his Shiite allies are reluctant, saying Sunni insurgent groups are the real threat to the country's security.

Iraqi leaders appeared to be bracing for possible turmoil tomorrow, when the verdict is scheduled in the trial of Saddam Hussein, who is charged in the killings and torture of scores of Shiites in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982.

Defense Minister Abdul Qadir al-Ubaidi canceled leaves for members of the military yesterday in case the outcome, which could include a death sentence, sparks celebrations or protests.

"These are careful measures for the expected events that might happen from reading the verdict," spokesman Mohammed Askari said.

In other developments, United Nations officials said yesterday that an estimated 3,000 Iraqis are fleeing to Syria and Jordan every day.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the exodus was overwhelming the agency, which had assumed that Iraqis who fled at the time of the 2003 invasion would have been able to return home by now.

The UNHCR estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis have left the country, though it notes that many did so long before the invasion.

An additional 1.6 million have fled to other parts of Iraq, the agency said.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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