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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Iraq Political Talks Are in Ruins

    Looks like this house of cards is falling. Who first warned about this happening? That's right! LIBERALS.

    More Clashes Shake Iraq; Political Talks Are in Ruins

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 23 A groundswell of sectarian fury continued to roil Iraq on Thursday after Wednesday's bombing of a major Shiite shrine, leaving at least 138 people dead in the past two days and political negotiations over a new government in ruins.

    The threat of full-scale civil war loomed over the country as Sunni politicians lashed out at Shiite leaders on Thursday, accusing them of igniting anti-Sunni reprisals, and at the American military, charging it with standing idly by as the violence erupted. The most powerful Sunni Arab political group said it was suspending talks with Shiite and Kurdish politicians on forming a new government.

    The killings and assaults across Iraq amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion. They have provoked questions about the proper role of the American military, its ability to control powerful Shiite militias, whom many Iraqis blamed for the attacks on Sunnis, and the Bush administration's plans for drawing down troops.

    Across the country, thousands of furious Shiites flooded the streets in a second day of protests against the bombing of the Askariya Shrine, whose signature golden dome was reduced to rubble by explosives on Wednesday morning in Sunni-dominated Samarra. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, and much of the violence seemed to be tapering off Thursday, though armed Shiites raided several Sunni mosques in Baghdad and set fire to at least two.

    In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed Wednesday in Samarra, near the ruined shrine. Seven American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in unrelated attacks involving roadside bombs.

    Political and religious leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint. The government set a curfew from 8 p.m. on Thursday to 4 p.m. on Friday, in an extraordinary effort to try to keep people from attending Friday Prayer. The worship services are seen as a potential flashpoint, where imams might urge more retaliatory attacks.

    Officials canceled leave for all soldiers and police officers, government offices remained shut, and the police operated checkpoints along the capital's boulevards. American military officials insisted Thursday that the Iraqi security forces were capable of restoring order, and that putting American troops in the lead would only undermine the Iraqi government. "We are seeing a confident Iraqi government using capable security forces to calm the storm," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American command.

    The poisonous atmosphere created by the bombing of the Askariya Shrine, which houses the tombs of two revered Shiite imams, and the retaliatory attacks that followed hung over every aspect of life on Thursday. The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, spent the day talking to politicians, trying to urge calm and keep the political process on track despite the anger felt by Sunnis and Shiites at each other and at the Americans.

    Mahmoud al-Mashhadany, a senior official in the Iraqi Consensus Front, the main Sunni Arab political bloc, said in a telephone interview that the bloc had withdrawn from talks to form a government with the main Shiite and Kurdish parties, accusing the Shiite-dominated transitional government of igniting the anti-Sunni violence. Mr. Mashhadany said his group would not re-engage until the government had brought to justice those responsible for attacking Sunni Arabs, though other Iraqi politicians said the group was posturing and would return to talks soon. "We're not ready to negotiate with the killers," Mr. Mashhadany said. "We think what happened yesterday was organized. It had all been organized the night before." Mr. Mashhadany also accused the American military of standing aside as Shiites slaughtered Sunnis. "The security portfolio is in the hands of the Americans, but yesterday we didn't see any Humvees," he said. "We didn't see any military reaction."

    American commanders have said they hope to withdraw a significant portion of the 130,000 American troops here by the end of this year, and that enough Iraqi soldiers and police officers could be trained to take over responsibility for security in many areas. Yet Iraqi forces did little to contain the violence. In at least one case in Baghdad, Iraqi witnesses said that policemen joined in attacking a mosque.

    Ambassador Khalilzad had been trying to persuade Sunni leaders to engage fully with the Shiites and Kurds. In doing so, he had denounced Shiite leaders who have been accused of supporting government death squads. But the two days of sectarian attacks have pushed Sunni and Shiite politicians further away from the Americans, with the Sunni Arabs saying that the Americans had failed to protect them and the hard-line Shiites blaming the Americans for trying to limit the Shiites' use of force against insurgents.

    The shrine attack appears to have strengthened the hand of conservative Shiite officials like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a prominent cleric, allowing them to justify the use of militias that the Americans had been trying to disband. Though Shiite leaders, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, condemned the anti-Sunni violence on Thursday, none chastised the Mahdi Army, Mr. Sadr's militia. Mr. Sadr issued a statement calling on the militia to protect holy sites and demanding that Americans set a timetable for withdrawal.

    In Shiite-dominated Iran, the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, blamed Israel and the Americans for the shrine bombing in a speech broadcast live on television. "These heinous acts are committed by a group of Zionists and occupiers that have failed," he said. "They have failed in the face of Islam's logic and justice."

    The anti-American sentiments were echoed by many Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad on Thursday. "I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes it is America," said Abdul-Qader Ali, a clothing merchant in Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold here. "Everything that is going on between Sunnis and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America."

    Some officials at the Pentagon said the failure to prevent the shrine bombing and subsequent violence, in which dozens of Sunni mosques were attacked and some imams killed, was the responsibility of the new Iraqi police units, which are considered intensely sectarian, having been recruited from the ranks of Shiite militias. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, has launched internal investigations into whether officers are running death squads, and, city by city, many police units have proved to more loyal to local religious or political leaders than to the central government.

    The officials also noted that decisions on whether to increase visible American patrols in the country would vary from region to region, based on commanders' consultations with local tribal and civic leaders.

    The 47 Iraqis killed south of Baghdad were civilians who had been pulled off buses at a fake checkpoint in the farming area of Nahrawan, where Sunni Arab militants and Sadr loyalists have had violent clashes, an Interior Ministry official said. The religious affiliation of the victims, who had been returning from a protest, was not immediately clear.

    Al Arabiya, the satellite network, said the journalists killed on the outskirts of Samarra on Wednesday were Atwar Bahjat, 30, a correspondent; Khalid Mahmoud al-Falahi, 39, a cameraman; and Adnan Khairullah, 36, a sound engineer. Ms. Bahjat was standing in a crowd and reporting on the shrine attack when gunmen abducted her and her two colleagues. Their bodies were found Thursday morning near their vehicle.

    In Baquba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, a bomb exploded at 12:30 p.m. near an Iraqi Army patrol in a marketplace, killing at least 16 people, half of them soldiers, and wounding at least 20 others, the Interior Ministry official said.

    The seven American troops killed Wednesday died in separate roadside bombings four near the insurgent stronghold of Hawija, north of Baghdad, and three near the Shiite-dominated town of Balad. At least 57 of the bodies discovered on Wednesday and Thursday were in Baghdad. Many of the victims appeared to be Sunni Arabs living in or near Shiite enclaves in the east of the city, the Interior Ministry official said.

    In the past two days, smoke from burning Sunni mosques could be seen curling into the sky from some of the neighborhoods, especially those near impoverished Sadr City, the Mahdi Army's stronghold. Meanwhile, some Shiites living in Sunni Arab neighborhoods have hastily assembled night watch groups.

    Report on German Spies

    BERLIN, Feb. 23 (Reuters) The German government released a report on Thursday that said two German spies provided the United States with intelligence on Iraq, but rejected charges that it aided the American bombing campaign.

    The report says a former president of Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency, August Hanning, decided that two BND agents would remain in Iraq at the start of the 2003 American-led invasion. The report acknowledged the BND agents provided the United States with intelligence, but said it was not about bomb targets.

    Reporting for this article was contributed by Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi and Khalid al-Ansary from Baghdad and Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

  2. #2
    umdkook Guest

    Re: Iraq Political Talks Are in Ruins

    my girlfriend and my cat can vouch for me when i say I WARNED EvERYONE FIRST ahah.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: Iraq Political Talks Are in Ruins

    Sectarian Killings Shatter Brief Calm of Iraqi Curfew

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sunday, Feb. 26 Iraq's prime minister, its president and most of the country's political elite met in an emergency session on Saturday night in an effort to contain the sectarian crisis that has paralyzed this country.

    The meeting, parts of which were broadcast live on national television from the house of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was a highly public display of good will, and it came amid a fresh wave of violence that left about 46 dead. Still, the sectarian reprisals by rioting mobs, which started Wednesday after the bombing in Samarra of one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, seem to have subsided.

    The intensive efforts at diplomacy on Saturday came from as far as the United States: President Bush called leaders from Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political parties to urge them to return to talks over a new government, which had been derailed by violence and recrimination, according to Fred Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

    The meeting in Baghdad, which lasted more than two hours and was joined by a flurry of joint statements and prayers by Iraqi political and religious leaders, came amid intense pressure from other American officials as well. At its conclusion, Mr. Jaafari said the participants had stated their desire to speed up the political process.

    "Everyone believes that the prospect for a civil war has diminished significantly over the past several days," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, in remarks to reporters before attending the meeting. "All the mainstream leaders of Iraq believe that civil war must be avoided. It's very positive that they are all saying it."

    Still, he added, "we're not completely out of danger yet."

    Iraq's defense and interior ministers announced a partial extension of a curfew that has been in place since Thursday. Traffic will still be banned in the capital through Sunday, but cars can move as of 6 a.m. in three other provinces.

    The killings on Saturday included a bombing in a market in Karbala, a holy city for Shiites, which killed 5 and wounded 35, and the lethal shooting of 12 members of a Shiite family in a farmhouse north of Baghdad.

    Mourners from a funeral for an Iraqi journalist killed during the sectarian flare-up came under attack in western Baghdad, and two police officers were killed. Another officer was killed in a shooting near the house of Harith al-Dhari, a hard-line Sunni cleric.

    Bodies continued to surface: in addition to the Shiite family, Iraqi authorities found 11 other unidentified bodies in and around Baghdad.

    In another attack, local police officials in Kirkuk in northern Iraq said a bomb went off inside a Shiite mosque, called Imam Ridha, damaging its dome and one of its minarets.

    In a live appearance on Iraqi television, the defense and interior ministers defended the government's actions for the first time since the violence began Wednesday, saying that reports of attacks against Sunni mosques had been exaggerated. A total of 22 mosques were attacked and just one was destroyed, they said a count far less than the 47 attacks announced earlier this week.

    The Defense Ministry put the four-day death toll at 119, compared with the more than 200 reported by the Interior Ministry.

    Even so, they said more Iraqi troops had been prepared for deployment, and they called on political leaders and clerics to tone down their rhetoric.

    "We are ready to fill the streets with armored vehicles," Defense Minister Saidoon al-Dulaimy said.

    At the same time, the American military said it had stepped up its public presence, joining in patrols and roadblocks. In a briefing for reporters on Saturday, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American military command, said that during the past 24 hours, soldiers and the police had conducted 268 patrols in Baghdad and had set up an additional 136 checkpoints.

    Mr. Khalilzad said American patrols had increased from around 65 per day a few days ago to almost 300 on Saturday.

    On the political front, there were signs of hope in addition to the meeting at Mr. Jaafari's house. The largest Sunni Arab political bloc announced that it was reconsidering its pullout from negotiations over the new government, after Mr. Jaafari announced that Sunni mosques would also be rebuilt.

    In two joint news conferences, Sunni clerics and politicians joined Shiite counterparts to condemn the violence and project an image of agreement. The meeting at Mr. Jaafari's house, which lasted until well after 11 p.m., concluded with similar public displays of unity.

    But as reports of violence continued, Sunni Arabs in the worst-hit mixed neighborhoods remained terrified, and many said they used the evening hours after the curfew to move their families to safer areas. In the normally calm neighborhood of Adhamiya, gunfights were heard until well after midnight.

    In at least one case, on Friday night, government troops clashed with Sunni Arabs near the Qubaisi mosque in southwestern Baghdad, leaving 14 Iraqi police commandos dead, an Interior Ministry official said.

    "You can imagine how everybody is scared," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and a member of the National Assembly. "Finally it's sinking in that something has to be done. You can't let this thing go completely unattended."

    Khalid al-Ansary, Khalid Hassan and Qais Mizher contributed reporting for this article.

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