A plea for peace amid violence in Iraq

Premier urges calm

talks set this week in Iran and Jordan

November 27, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Angry Shiite Muslims pelted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's motorcade with stones yesterday after the Iraqi leader pleaded for national reconciliation at a memorial in Sadr City for bomb victims.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, left the scene after he tried without success to calm mourners calling for revenge against Sunni Arabs. His pleas were met with shouts of "coward" and "collaborator."

The suicide and car bombings killed at least 215 people Thursday in the Shiite neighborhood on the eastern edge of Baghdad.

The violence in Iraq will be at the top of the agenda when U.S. and regional leaders meet this week in a flurry of high-level diplomacy. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will go to Iran today for talks. President Bush is to meet with al-Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II this week in Amman.

Bush is expected to discuss how Iraq's neighbors can help prevent further deterioration in Iraq.

"We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq," King Abdullah said yesterday on the ABC News program This Week. "We can possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands."

Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are high in Lebanon after last week's killing of a Cabinet member in Beirut. Israeli and Palestinian officials were trying yesterday to enforce a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

A report from the bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, is expected to recommend that the Bush administration reach out to countries in the region, including Iran and Syria, for a solution in Iraq.

Talabani, whose trip was delayed for two days because Baghdad's airport was closed, will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Syrian President Bashar Assad also was invited but does not plan to attend. Iraq and Syria restored full diplomatic relations last week.

"Iraq is passing through a crisis, so we need the neighboring counties to support us," Ali Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, told Arabiya TV yesterday. Iraq's government encourages talks between the United States and Iran, he added.

The heckling of al-Maliki yesterday by fellow Shiites came after threats last week by Shiite lawmakers linked to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to abandon the government if al-Maliki goes ahead with the Bush meeting.

"There are hawks and doves inside the [al-Sadr] bloc," said Sadeq Musawi, a political analyst in Baghdad. "The hawks are calling for [a U.S. withdrawal]. And the doves are using this to make more and more political demands from the government."

Sunni lawmakers also threatened to walk out of the government recently after officials issued an arrest warrant for Iraq's top Sunni cleric.

Yesterday, before his visit to Sadr City, al-Maliki appealed for peace as he stood alongside Talabani as well as the speaker of parliament and a vice president, both Sunnis.

While Iraq's leaders appealed for unity, state television repeatedly aired a diatribe by the Shiite deputy health minister, accusing residents of various Sunni neighborhoods of fostering violence - a departure from the station's more placid rhetoric.

Along with the political discord, mortar attacks continued yesterday between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, and some shells hit an American military base.

The rounds that hit the U.S. base were fired from the southern edge of Sadr City. Others were directed at the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah, a military spokesman said.

In the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Karada, two mortar rounds killed four civilians and injured five, including the imam of the Zuwiya Mosque. The wounded were taken to Ibn Nafis Hospital, where armed men later tried to break in. Police guarding the hospital fought the attackers, eventually repelling them as reinforcements arrived.

In the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Ghazalia, remaining Shiites put up pictures of al-Sadr behind the Sunni Muhajirin mosque. A few hours later, gunmen tore them down. Later, a gunfight broke out between local Sunnis and members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, according to the mosque's preacher, who said four Sunnis were killed and 20 injured.

Outside Baghdad, bombings and assassinations claimed nine lives near Hillah, authorities said. In Baqouba, police recovered the bodies of seven teenagers who had been bound and shot execution-style.

The U.S. military announced that an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Diyala province. In western Anbar province, two U.S. Marines were killed in separate attacks. All three Americans were killed Saturday, according to the military.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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