Iraqi officials argue over security plan

Parliament suspends heated debate

more than 80 Iraqis killed in attacks

January 26, 2007|By Alexandra Zavis | Alexandra Zavis,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's Shiite prime minister exchanged heated words with a Sunni lawmaker over the country's new security plan yesterday, leading parliament to temporarily suspend debate and Iraqi television to abort its coverage.

The argument underscored the deep divides that have bedeviled attempts to quell Iraq's deadly sectarian conflict.

As the legislators debated, the violence continued, with more than 80 Iraqis and at least one U.S. soldier killed in a string of bombings and other attacks.

In the day's worst attack, a suicide bomber blew up his car at a busy Baghdad intersection where a long line of shoppers waited to buy bread, killing at least 27 people and injuring 54, police and witnesses said.

"These terrorists are always one step ahead of the government security forces," said Ridha Mustapha, a minibus driver who rushed into the bloody chaos after hearing the blast from his apartment. "It should be the other way around. All the government does is talk about the security plan, when the fact of the matter is that they should be taking the initiative in order to deter these attacks."

At least two rockets slammed into the heavily fortified Green Zone, setting off sirens and warnings to take cover in the neighborhood that houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government's headquarters. The blasts caused six injuries, most of them minor, the U.S. military said.

The parliamentary clash took place as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented arguments in favor of the U.S.-backed security plan. The plan would leave no havens for militants, regardless of religious or political affiliations, he told lawmakers.

"Some say that this plan targets Sunnis or Shiites. The fact is that this plan targets all who stand in the way of the law," al-Maliki said.

Abdul Nasir Janabi, a Sunni cleric and legislator, responded by protesting a sweep by U.S. and Iraqi troops Wednesday through Haifa Street, a Sunni neighborhood in the heart of Baghdad that is dominated by militants. Sporadic blasts continued yesterday in the area where more than 30 gunmen have been killed in fierce fighting.

Janabi demanded that security forces lift their cordon around the area, insisting to loud protests from the Shiite-dominated chamber that "there are no terrorists in Haifa Street."

"Aren't there terrorists in Sadr City or Shula?" he asked, referring to two Shiite militia strongholds.

Janabi accused al-Maliki's administration of purging Sunni Arabs from the government, arresting pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia and imposing politically motivated death sentences, a possible reference to the execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein last month.

"We cannot trust this premiership," Janabi said, as the shouting escalated.

Al-Maliki retorted: "All I could tell our brother the sheik is that he will trust in this premiership once we present his file and hold him accountable for it." As Shiite legislators loudly applauded, he said, "One hundred and fifty kidnapped individuals in his area - why doesn't he talk about that?"

Mahmoud Mashhadani, the parliament's speaker and a Sunni, interrupted the exchange, chiding al-Maliki for making "unacceptable" accusations and adding with sarcasm: "The security plan will be very successful because you people are divided from this moment."

He then called for an adjournment to avoid inflaming sectarian tensions. The session resumed soon after, but Iraqiya, the state-run television station, stopped airing it. The station later put out an edited version.

Iraq's 275-member parliament has witnessed many angry exchanges between Shiite and Sunni legislators, but it was unusual for al-Maliki to enter the fray.

In his speech, al-Maliki said the government would hunt down militants wherever they are, in churches, homes and mosques.

"Don't think for one moment that the Baghdad security plan will be limited to this city alone," he told legislators. "We will pursue the criminals outside of Baghdad, on the outskirts and even further, wherever they decide to flee."

He promised to go after any political or community group that shelters outlaws, adding that anyone using government vehicles for unauthorized purposes would be arrested and punished.

The Iraqi government concedes that Shiite militiamen linked to parliament's two largest political blocs have infiltrated the security forces and that government vehicles have been used in a number of high-profile kidnappings and killings.

The first of a promised 21,500 more U.S. troops have arrived in Iraq to help implement the security plan in Baghdad and Anbar province, a center of the Sunni-driven insurgency. Al-Maliki has pledged to move Iraqi troops to the capital, but has not said when the operation will begin.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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