Iraqi leader vows action

100 killed in 24 hours

al-Maliki pledges change

November 13, 2006|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki scolded lawmakers at a closed Parliament session yesterday for putting sectarian concerns over national interests, and he promised sweeping Cabinet changes, after complaints that his unity government has been ineffective at containing violence that killed nearly 100 people in 24 hours.

He later told journalists that he has authorized the use of "extreme force" against private militias blamed for surging bloodshed between Iraq's dominant Muslim sects that has claimed more lives lately than the anti-U.S. insurgency.

"There cannot be a government and militias together. One of the two should rule," al-Maliki said in a session yesterday with Iraqi newspaper editors that was broadcast on national television. "I personally will not be in a government based on militias."

It was unusually tough language for a leader widely criticized for not standing up to key members of his governing Shiite coalition, some of whom are backed by militias blamed for killing sprees against the Sunni Arab minority.

The bodies of at least 33 victims of sectarian killings, many of them handcuffed and tortured, were found in parts of Baghdad and Baqubah in the 24 hours ending last night, officials said.

At least 65 other people were killed in bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks yesterday, including 38 who died in twin suicide bombings at a police recruitment center in Baghdad.

Frustration has been mounting on all sides at the unrelenting toll. Sunni political leaders in recent weeks have threatened to walk out of the government, undermining a multi-ethnic coalition that U.S. officials had hoped would blunt the violence.

Shiites in Diwaniya, a strife-torn region south of Baghdad, threatened to take up arms yesterday and hunt down the kidnappers of at least 11 fellow tribesmen if the government failed to find them, provincial leaders said.

There also has been intense pressure from U.S. officials who want al-Maliki to commit to timelines to make the tough political and security decisions needed to contain the bloodshed.

Al-Maliki demanded in the closed session that lawmakers set aside personal interests and partisan loyalties for the sake of national stability, according to his office.

Al-Maliki's aides had previously indicated he planned to replace a few members of his Cabinet, but yesterday's statement suggested the changes would be broader.

Al-Maliki asked for a free hand in shaping the new government, complaining he had no say over current members, who were selected by the main political blocs after months of wrangling.

"He even said he was only given some of the names five minutes before he announced them," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator.

Othman did not expect the balance among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to change in a new government, but he said al-Maliki wanted to select names himself within those blocs.

There was no word on when the new Cabinet would be announced.

Sunni lawmakers welcomed al-Maliki's tougher stance against militias but questioned whether he would be as effective against Shiite militias as Sunni groups.

"There will be selectivity in dealing with the sides that are carrying guns for and against the government," Sunni legislator Salim Abdalla predicted.

Underscoring the gravity of the violence, two suicide bombers joined a crowd waiting outside a Baghdad police recruitment center and detonated the charges strapped to their waists, said Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf.

He said the coordinated attack had "the fingerprints" of al-Qaida in Iraq, the country's most feared terrorist group.

The near-simultaneous blasts killed 38 people and injured more than 50, according to officials at the nearby Yarmouk Hospital.

Salah Hasnawi, a 21-year-old Shiite, was among those waiting to clear security to enter the center when the attack happened.

"I was thrown to the ground," he said from a bed in Yarmouk Hospital, where he was being treated for shrapnel wounds to both legs. "I tried to run, fearing other explosions, but my legs wouldn't carry me."

He was saved, he said, by two Sunni men who survived the first blast unscathed only to be wounded by the second.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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