Al-Sadr Group Threatens to Quit
Cancel Bush Meeting as there is
"no reason to meet the criminal who is behind terrorism in Iraq"
Al Jazeera (Doha, Qatar) 24nov2006
Faleh Hasan Shanshal, a political aide of Moqtadr al-Sadr, said on Friday: "We have asked al-Maliki to cancel his meeting with Bush as there is no reason to meet the criminal who is behind terrorism in Iraq.
"We will suspend our membership in parliament and the cabinet if he goes ahead."
Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister, is scheduled to meet with George Bush, the US president, in Jordan on November 29.
"This is a sign of an alliance between Saddamists, takfiris (Sunni extremists) and the occupation forces," the statement said.
Pull out threat
Moqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric whose Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) militia dominates Sadr City, told chanting supporters in a Friday sermon that the most prominent religious figure from the Sunni group must issue an edict demanding an end to the killing of Shia Muslims.
The group demanded that the government "specify the nature of its relations with the occupation forces", and once again demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led troops from Iraq.
It said the Shia bastion of Sadr City, the impoverished district where many Sadr followers are based, faces deadly insurgent attacks and repeated US raids.
Spate of attacks
A wave of car bombs ripped through Sadr City on Thursday, killing at least 202 people and wounding another 256 in the deadliest attack in Iraq since the war that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Armed men also attacked the city's health ministry on Thursday and fought security guards in a gun battle, trapping 2,000 employees inside.
Officials said the toll could rise since many of the dead had been reduced to scattered body parts and not been fully counted.
After dark, there was sporadic gunfire in several districts.
One of the blasts went off at a market, a regular target for Sunni fighters in the sectarian conflict that has killed thousands of people in Iraq. The neighbourhood is a stronghold of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
After the attacks, al-Maliki warned of "the dark hand of conspiracy that is shedding the blood of the innocent" and urged restraint, saying those responsible would be caught.
Leading Shia, Sunni and Kurdish politicians made a joint appeal for calm on Iraqi television.
Interior ministry sources said five people were wounded at the health ministry building, about 5km from Sadr City.
The attackers fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns into the compound. The ministry is run by followers of al-Sadr.
Hakim al-Zamili, the deputy health minister, was trapped in the building with the employees.
He said: "First, a series of mortars were fired at the building from the nearby Al-Fadhel neighbourhood, and then about 100 masked gunmen holding machine guns attacked.
"The gunmen came in civilian cars and pick-up trucks and started shooting at the building and wounded a number of employees."
The attackers later withdrew after clashes with American and Iraqi security forces.
A health ministry spokesman said: "The gunmen fled as American helicopters and Iraqi armoured vehicles arrived. Employees were [later] able to leave."
The fighting lasted for several hours but the attackers failed to break into the ministry compound.
source: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/6A610483-0836-4798-9C44-7EB00D6CC8BA.htm 24nov2006
Baghdad Bomb Dead Taken South for Burial
DEVIKA BHAT / The Times (UK) 24nov2006
Coffins carrying the bodies of more than 200 Iraqis killed by car bomb and mortar attacks set off today on a grim 100-mile funeral procession from the Shia Muslim slums of Baghdad to a holy city in the south.
Crying, chanting and beating their chests as they mourned the loss of their loved ones, around 300 men, women and children walked alongside vehicles carrying the caskets of the dead, killed in what was the deadliest attack in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
As the grief-stricken procession reached the edge of Sadr City, the Shia enclave that was the scene of yesterday’s destruction, the cars and vans left most of the mourners behind, beginning the long journey south to Najaf, the holy city that is the traditional burial place for Shias from across the world.
The drive is a notoriously treacherous one, passing through several checkpoints and areas controlled by Sunni militants in Iraq’s so-called "Triangle of Death."
Amidst cries of "God is great. There is no God but Allah," members of the crowd repeatedly touched the sides of the cars and vans holding the dead, as if to say a final goodbye to the scores of relatives and friends killed.
With Baghdad remaining under a 24-hour curfew aimed at halting further sectarian violence, the mourners were the only ones allowed on the streets of the capital together with police officers brought in to guard the processions upon the orders of Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister who is himself a Shia.
The assault, believed to have been carried out by insurgents most likely from al-Qaeda, saw militants exploding five car bombs in brief intervals just after 3pm yesterday, shattering the Jamila market, al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square in Sadr City. At around the same town mortar rounds struck the neighbourhood.
As the death toll rose to 215 with a further 257 wounded, radical Shias slammed coalition forces, accusing US troops of failing to provide security.
"We say occupation forces are fully responsible for these acts, and we call for the withdrawal of occupation forces or setting a timetable for their withdrawal," said Qusai Abdul-Wahab, a follower of the Shia cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr.
His comments came as it emerged that al-Sadr, a key player in the Iraqi Government, had threatened to withdraw his allies from the Cabinet and parliament if Mr al-Maliki went ahead with his scheduled meeting with President Bush in Jordan next week.
The cleric's followers hold six Cabinet seats and have 30 members in the 275-member parliament.
"We asked Maliki to cancel his planned meeting with Bush because there is no reason to meet with the criminal who is behind terrorism in Iraq," Faleh Hasan Shanshal, a senior official in Sadr’s movement, told Reuters. "We will suspend our membership of the cabinet and parliament if he goes ahead."
Shia fighters quickly retaliated to yesterday’s onslaught, firing 10 mortar rounds in the Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiyah, killing one person and wounding seven others.
Eight more rounds targeted the area near the offices of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the main Sunni organisation in Iraq, setting nearby houses on fire. This was followed later yesterday by two further mortar barrages on Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad, which killed nine and wounded 21.
The violence continued unabatted today. Two bombs exploded in northern Iraq, killing at least 22 people and wounding 26.
The attack in Tal Afar, 260 miles (420 km) northwest of Baghdad, saw a pedestrian wearing a suicide belt blow himself up at the same time as explosives hidden in a parked car went off outside a car dealership.
The bloodshed came as both British and US officials appeared to signal that coalition forces were considering moves to accelerate the hand-over of security responsibilities to Iraqi authorities.
"We condemn such acts of senseless violence that are clearly aimed at undermining the Iraqi people’s hopes for a peaceful and stable Iraq," Jeanie Mamo, White House spokesman, said in Washington.
Leaders from Iraq’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities issued a televised appeal for calm, while Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most prominent Shia cleric in Iraq, condemned the bombings and urged self-control among his followers.
Iraq is suffering through a period of unparalleled violence, with the UN claiming yesterday that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October alone, the most in any month since the start of the war 44 months ago. It added that citizens were fleeing the country at a rate of 100,000 each month, and that at least 1.6 million Iraqis have left since March 2003.
source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-2469993,00.html 24nov2006
Iraq Toll Rises;
Shiite Militia Retaliates
EDWARD WONG / New York Times 24nov2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 24 - Defying a government-imposed curfew, Shiite militiamen stormed Sunni mosques in central Iraq today, shot guards and burned down several buildings in apparent retaliation for a series of devastating car bombs that killed hundreds of people the previous day in a Shiite slum.
As the death toll from those bombings rose above 200, gunmen drove through neighborhoods in Baghdad and the nearby provincial capital of Baquba, shooting at mosques with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on the Muslim holy day, when many Iraqis attend a weekly sermon.
From morning until afternoon, at least seven mosques were attacked in a single mixed neighborhood in the capital. Three were destroyed completely, and at least three guards were killed, an Interior Ministry official said. Iraqi security forces were either absent or unable to stop the gunmen. Residents blamed the attacks on the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia based in Sadr City, the area ravaged by the explosions on Thursday.
“I live near Akbar al-Mustafa Mosque, which came under attack by gunmen around 7 this morning,” said a man who gave his name as Abu Ruqaiya and lives in Hurriya, the neighborhood where violence raged all day. “Around 3 in the afternoon, those gunmen bombed this mosque and destroyed part of it. They left only after American and Iraqi soldiers arrived.”
The wave of revenge attacks came despite a traffic ban the Iraqi government had imposed across the capital starting Thursday evening, underscoring the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi security forces in tamping down on violence that is widening the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide and pushing the country toward full-scale civil war. The assaults against Sunnis on Friday evoked the rampages by Shiite gunmen that took place in the hours after a revered Shiite shrine was bombed by insurgents last February in Samarra.
American troops stepped up patrols across Baghdad, setting up checkpoints and rolling down mostly deserted avenues in armored Humvees. In the far north, a suicide car bomber and a suicide belt bomber detonated their explosives in crowded areas in the insurgent-rife city of Tal Afar, killing at least 20 people and injuring at least 42.
The bloodletting over the 24-hour period amounted to one of the worst spasms of violence since the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. It comes before a meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled for Wednesday in Jordan. Both men face increasing pressure from their respective publics to come up with a successful strategy for stemming the growing carnage in Iraq, and both are navigating rising tensions between their two governments as they try to agree on a viable path forward.
A powerful bloc in Parliament that is loyal to the firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr announced this afternoon that it would boycott the government if Mr. Maliki met with President Bush. The anti-American Mr. Sadr controls Sadr City and the Mahdi Army, and the attacks on Thursday appeared to have strengthened his political standing and emboldened him. As long as Sunni Arab extremists carry out attacks against his Shiites, Mr. Sadr can justify the existence of his militia and ignore entreaties by the Iraqi or American governments to disband it.
The legislators met in the Sadr headquarters and angrily denounced the American military, saying the presence of the foreign troops was galvanizing the violence that roils Iraq daily.
“The occupation forces should shoulder the full responsibility for these deeds, and we call for them to end their rule in Iraq by withdrawal or at least setting a timetable for withdrawal,” said Saleh al-Iqaili, a Sadr legislator. “If the security situation does not improve, as well as the issue of basic services, and if the prime minister does not retreat from his intent to meet the criminal Bush in Amman, we will suspend our membership in the Iraqi Parliament and the government.”
Mr. Sadr, in a speech delivered at Friday sermons in the southern holy city of Kufa, did not mention the boycott threat, but he did repeat his usual demand of a timetable for withdrawal from the Americans. He also called on a militant Sunni cleric, Sheik Harith al-Dhari, to issue an edict forbidding the murder of Shiites and denouncing Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Blocs in Parliament, including Mr. Sadr’s, have threatened to walk out before. Mr. Maliki, a conservative Shiite, relies on Mr. Sadr for political support against Shiite rivals, and a withdrawal of Mr. Sadr’s legislators from the 275-member Parliament could upend the power balance among within the main Shiite political coalition. Mr. Sadr controls at least 30 seats in Parliament and three cabinet positions, including that of the health ministry, which was besieged for two hours on Thursday by Sunni Arab insurgents armed with mortars and assault rifles.
Some American officials also argue that Mr. Sadr’s engagement in politics is necessary for any hope of a peaceful disarmament of his thousands-strong militia, which has twice rebelled against the American military.
At the same time, Mr. Sadr’s strong ties to Mr. Maliki make it difficult for the prime minister to crack down on Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, and impatience among American generals and Bush administration officials is growing.
The mosque attacks on Friday, part of the deepening cycle of vengeance between Sunnis and Shiites, underscored the dangers posed by the militias, and the ways in which they are ratcheting up, day by day, the civil strife here.
“My daughter lives near Mishada mosque in this neighborhood, and she says gunmen killed and wounded some people there,” Abu Ruqaiya said in a phone interview. “There were clashes with the guards of the mosque.”
Another resident of the Hurriya neighborhood said militiamen burned down the empty home of a former member of the ruling Baath Party, which Saddam Hussein had controlled. Rumors spread quickly throughout the day, fanned by fear. In the evening, a resident said in a telephone interview on Al Jazeera, the Arab news network, that gunmen had doused some people with gasoline and set them on fire. But other residents contacted by telephone denied this.
In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a Sunni mosque, sparking a battle with guards there, a police official said. Militants also shot at the provincial government center and the police headquarters. A group of insurgents destroyed the minaret of a large Shiite mosque near the market with explosives or projectiles, the police official said.
Interior Ministry officials in Baghdad said at least 202 people were killed in the Sadr City bombings on Thursday, and at least 256 wounded. In the morning, hundreds of mourners poured into the streets of the sprawling district to join processions of minibuses and sedans with wooden coffins strapped to the roof. Women in black robes beat their chests while men waved pistols from car windows to clear the streets.
“I stayed up the entire night talking with friends and neighbors about what happened,” said Ghaith Qassim, 35, a clothing vendor at a funeral. “We’re so angry and sad over this. The people here blame the leaders of the government.”
In one quarter, a three-minibus convoy wound its way through fetid streets, bound for the Shiite cemetery in the holy city of Najaf. The first two vehicles each had a coffin strapped to their roofs. The third had three coffins, all holding the bodies of victims from the same family.
Omar al-Neami, Qais Mizher, Hosham Hussein, and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reporting.