Iraqis to consider curbs on U.S. military

Backlash continues over civilian deaths

October 23, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen | Christian Berthelsen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Leaders in the Iraqi parliament said yesterday that they were taking steps to examine the U.S. military presence in Iraq with an eye toward possibly restricting the force's activities, in a continuing backlash over an American raid that Iraqi officials say killed 13 civilians.

Before the end of the year, the United Nations is expected to take up its annual reauthorization of a Security Council resolution that allows the presence of U.S. troops here. Iraqi leaders have charged that the U.S. military used too much force in responding to attacks, leading to the deaths of civilians, and that the Americans have not coordinated enough with Iraqi forces.

The U.S. military maintained that it killed 49 "criminals" in the raid Sunday on Sadr City, a mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood in the capital, and was unaware of any civilian casualties. But journalists for Western news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, saw the corpses of two children at the Imam Ali hospital who were killed in the attack and interviewed other children who were wounded.

The parliament speaker's office, which includes representatives from all three of Iraq's major ethnic groups, issued a statement yesterday, saying: "The Iraqi Parliament condemns these violations that are against the basics of military work and human rights. ... The Iraqi Parliament is taking these negative violations seriously as it touches the life and dignity of Iraqis."

Leaders in parliament are to meet Oct. 31 to consider forming a committee, to be made up of representatives from various parties, to make recommendations on limitations Iraq should seek in the United Nations resolution. Factions are squaring off, with some Sunni Arab moderates saying that the continued U.S. presence is critical to Iraq's future and Shiite leaders angry over the U.S. incursions into their neighborhoods seeking to curtail the American presence.

It is not clear what recommendations the committee ultimately might make, but members of parliament speculated yesterday that they could include limiting the U.S. presence to certain areas in Iraq or to express desire for a mission statement that the primary goal of American troops should be to train Iraqi forces, while establishing a timeline for U.S. withdrawal.

A recommendation to oppose the U.N. reauthorization entirely appears to be unlikely.

Iraqis have increasingly chafed under the U.S. occupation, now well into its fifth year. Passions have been inflamed in recent weeks after a rash of civilian casualties stemming from military operations gone awry and killings of unarmed Iraqis by Western security contractors. Two previous military raids in Sadr City this summer killed a total of more than 50 people.

Should the parliament ultimately move forward with the effort to put demands on the U.S. military operation here, it would be the second time this year that members have sought some form of control over the U.S. presence. In June, the parliament passed a resolution requiring the government to seek the parliament's permission before asking the U.N. to extend the authorization for the U.S. troop presence.

Christian Berthelsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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