Dozens more die in Iraq's sectarian violence

November 10, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Bombs and gunfire rattled the capital yesterday as sectarian warfare killed at least 45 more Iraqis.

The bodies of at least 26 unidentified men, all with multiple gunshot wounds and some bearing signs of torture, were found in and around Baghdad, a police official said.

Throughout the day, explosions shook the city. A suicide car bomb near the Imam Ali mosque on the western outskirts killed five civilians and injured six. Bombs at a marketplace and near a passing army patrol in northern Baghdad killed four and injured 16. A bomb placed near shops in eastern Baghdad killed at least five people and injured 25. Car bombs placed at a secondhand clothing store and near the Fine Arts Academy in central Baghdad killed four and injured 31.

A roadside bomb targeting a passing U.S. convoy in southern Baghdad knocked a Humvee off a bridge, a police official said. The U.S. military in Baghdad did not confirm or deny that account last night.

Gunmen killed a high-ranking Iraqi police officer in eastern Baghdad and a suspected Saddam Hussein loyalist near the city's downtown.

Mortar exchanges

Exchanges of mortar shells between neighboring Shiite and Sunni districts in northern Baghdad killed at least one person and injured 30 in a battle that has continued for days and caused dozens of casualties.

The fighting between neighborhoods, dismissed by the Iraqi government as insurgent attacks, prompted one political party to issue a statement demanding a halt.

"All powers, movements and national Iraqi parties are called to action in order to stop this bloodshed, which will take us toward dire ramifications and catastrophe," said a statement released by the parliamentary bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Violence in south

Violence also continued in southern Iraq. Gunmen killed a barber who once worked at the now-evacuated British army base in Amara. A previous attempt on his life left him hospitalized for weeks.

In Basra, gunmen killed a school principal and police found the body of an electricity department employee who had been kidnapped the previous night.

Moderate Sunni Muslims threatened to walk away from politics and pick up guns, and the Shiite-dominated government renewed pressure on the United States to unleash the Iraqi army, saying it could end the violence in six months.

After Democrats swept to majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned, Iraqis appeared to be unsettled and seemed to sense the potential for an even bloodier conflict because of uncertainties about the direction of the U.S. policy on Iraq.

As a result, positions have hardened on both sides of the country's deepening sectarian divide.

Death toll estimate

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Iraq's health minister has estimated that at least 150,000 civilians have been killed in the war, about three times as many as in earlier estimates.

It had been estimated previously, based on partial figures from Iraqi institutions and media reports, that 45,000 to 50,000 Iraqis had been killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict.

No official count has ever been available, and Health Minister Ali al-Shemari did not detail how he arrived at the new estimate of 150,000, which he provided to reporters during a visit to Vienna, Austria.

Later yesterday, Hassan Salem of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said the 150,000 figure included civilians, police officers and people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry. Salem's group is Iraq's largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.

Last month, the British medical journal The Lancet published a study contending that nearly 655,000 Iraqis had been killed since the U.S. invasion, far higher than other estimates. The study, which was dismissed by President Bush and other U.S. officials as not credible, was based on interviews of households and not a body count.

Al-Shemari disputed that figure yesterday.

"Since ... the change of the Saddam regime, some people say we have 600,000 killed. This is an exaggerated number. I think [150,000] is OK," he said.

Accurate figures on the death toll have long been the subject of debate. Police and hospitals often provide conflicting figures on the number of people killed in bombings, and death figures are reported through multiple channels by government agencies that vary in their efficiency.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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