Iraqi civilians targeted in attacks

Dozens reported dead in sectarian violence

May 02, 2007|By Chris Kraul | Chris Kraul,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- The recent upsurge in violence continued to exact a heavy toll on Iraqi civilians yesterday, while members of the national parliament said they moved a step closer to voting on a controversial new law to equitably distribute oil revenue.

Police yesterday reported the deaths of dozens of people in sectarian violence across Iraq, including the massacre of 16 people attending a funeral in Khalis near Baghdad. Also late Monday, gunmen attacked a minibus south of the capital, killing 11 passengers, including women and children.

Usama Alnijaifi, a legislator with the Iraqi National List party, said that parliamentarians have written a draft of a new hydrocarbons law that the full parliament will consider in a few weeks.

The law would define how oil revenue would be distributed among Iraq's provinces, a source of contention among factions. The Bush administration, which is urging passage as a gesture of national reconciliation, is pushing legislators to act quickly before the parliament adjourns for a scheduled two-month vacation.

In other developments, an Interior Ministry official told television reporters that the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, had been killed in an internal fight in Taji on Monday, but the report could not be independently confirmed by other ministry sources or by the U.S. military in Baghdad, which declined to comment.

A group purporting to be al-Qaida issued an Internet statement denying that al-Masri had been killed.

Al-Masri was identified on some Web sites as the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. "smart bomb" last June.

But previous claims by government officials of having killed or captured al-Qaida leaders have turned out to be false. In March, authorities claimed to have caught al-Qaida leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and seven aides near Baghdad. Later, the government said no capture had been made.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said last night he has "very solid confirmation" from tribal sheiks in Anbar province that al-Masri is dead, along with two Saudi aides.

"Today or tomorrow the news will be confirmed. We haven't received his body yet," Khalaf told the Times. Col. David W. Sutherland, a U.S. Army officer in Diyala province, said outrages such as the Khalis funeral killings were pushing more citizens to the U.S. military's side, as evidenced by a 163 percent increase in intelligence tips received by the U.S.-led coalition over the last two months.

In other violence, gunmen manning a false checkpoint in Latifiya stopped a minibus, ordered passengers out and killed three of them, police said. Police and health officials also said 15 unidentified bodies were found dumped in Baghdad yesterday, as well as 10 people in Baquba north of Baghdad. In Basra, police and health sources reported a car bomb in the al-Haiyaniay area killed eight and injured 14.

Although authorities said total Iraq civilian deaths of 1,500 for the month of April was a decline from the previous month, Iraqis continue to suffer tragic losses. Conservative estimates for total civilians killed since the war began in March 2003 exceed 60,000, while others calculate the toll to be several times that figure.

Insurgents fired mortars in several areas of Baghdad early yesterday, killing two civilians and injuring a half-dozen more, including members of a private security detail in Baghdad's so-called Green Zone, where the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy are located.

Looters, including local security forces, sacked parts of the University of Diyala in Moradiay yesterday after a joint force of American and Iraqi army units broke down doors of the university looking for insurgents. No insurgents were found, but the looters who followed took computers, air conditioners and laboratory equipment, said university President Ala'a Shakir Aiani.

Chris Kraul writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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