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Seventeen Iraqi Shiites
Killed in US Clashes

Agence France-Presse 27mar2006


Seventeen Shiites were reported killed in clashes with the US military at a Baghdad mosque that threaten to increase Iraqi-US tensions at a critical moment in the political process.

The US military said it had no information about the incident, which involved members of the Shiite Dawa party and tribal sheikhs, but the toll was confirmed by the Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City and defence ministry sources.

Jawad Maliki, an official of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's Dawa Party, told Iraqia television that he heard the US forces were chasing a wanted man who fled into the mosque.

"But this is no justification to attack and kill these people," he said. "This was a hostile attack looking to destroy the political process and provoke civil war. We put full responsibility on US troops and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad."

Images broadcast on Iraqia, the state-owned television station, showed blood spattered bodies of people from the mosque, many of whom were elderly men. Five Shiites were wounded.

One witness, shown by the television, said that US soldiers, backed by Iraqi security forces, attacked the mosque while a ceremony was underway for a man killed three days earlier in an insurgent attack in southern Baghdad.

Sources in the Iraqi interior ministry said earlier that US soldiers while conducting a raid on the mosque came under fire from its guards and responded, killing guards as well as number of Sadr's followers inside the mosque which police described as a stronghold for the group.

Hazem al-Aaraji, of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political movement originally told AFP many of his followers were killed in the attack but told Iraqia they were not involved.

"They were not Mehdi Army, they were members of Dawa Party and tribal sheikhs," he said, calling for a government investigation.

The clashes came as police reported 30 decapitated bodies were discovered dumped by the side of the road 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Baquba, near the mixed Sunni-Shiite village of Mullah Eid in a province known for its sectarian tension and past killings.

However the Iraqi army said they were unable to locate the corpses in the darkness.

Since the dynamiting of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra on February 22, corpses showing signs of torture have been discovered on a regular basis in Baghdad and surrounding provinces, victims of tit-for-tat sectarian killings.

US forces raided a building in Baghdad and arrested 40 members of an Iraqi security service that had imprisoned 17 foreigners, said an Iraqi security source. The US military said it had no information about the event.

The building, which is located in downtown Baghdad, was raided early in the morning and the 17 people held there were only described as "non-Iraqi".

The clashes came at a particularly sensitive time in Iraq's political process, with political leaders bidding to form a national unity government amid mounting US pressure to hurry up three months after elections.

"There isn't total agreement, nor is there total disagreement," said Wael Abdel Latif, a politician with former prime minister Iyad Allawi's National List after talks concluded for the day.

"The thorniest point is the security portfolio and who will be holding it," he said.

Iraq's politicians are under heavy pressure from the United States and other countries to form a government and stem the tide of violence.

"It is critical that the newly elected leaders of Iraq do their part by forming a government of national unity with a good program and competent ministers as soon as possible," said US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad has repeatedly stated that ministries, especially those related to security, should not be allocated on the basis of sectarian or ethnic identities, but rather on the skill of the candidate.

Over the past week, there have been numerous statements from US officials, including President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as well as visiting congressional officials that a government needs to be formed soon.

The Arab League echoed the calls, calling in a draft statement for their upcoming summit in Khartoum, for a "a quick formation of a national unity government in Iraq which would help in achieving security and stability, preserve the unity of Iraq and its people."

President Jalal Talabani would not be attending the summit in order to see to the government talks at home.

One of the sticking points of negotiations is the newly crafted National Security Council made up of members of all the major parties and expected to deal with questions of security.

The Shiites want the body to be solely advisory in nature, while the other groups see it as a way of diluting Shiite dominance of the new government.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was "entirely probable" the United States would make a "significant" drawdown of US troops in Iraq within a year.

"I think it's entirely probable that we will see a significant drawdown of American forces over the next year," she said, speaking on NBC television's "Meet the Press" program.

source: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/060326/1/3zmz2.html 26mar2006

US Soldiers Accused of Mosque Deaths

ALEC RUSSELL / The Telegraph (UK) 27mar2006


Washington A representative of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-western Shia cleric, last night accused US troops of killing 18 Sadr supporters while raiding a mosque in eastern Baghdad. He claimed that the men had been unarmed.

The American military said it had no reports of the incident. Anti-US feeling is particularly high in Iraq after the Pentagon announced an official investigation into the alleged killing of 15 civilians, including women and children, by US troops in Haditha.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, the American secretary of state, forecast yesterday that there could be a "significant" withdrawal of US forces from Iraq this year.

"I think it is entirely probable that we will see a significant draw-down over the next year,'' she said, adding that any withdrawal depended on Iraqi troops being able to assume more responsibility.

source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/03/27/wirq127.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/03/27/ixworld.html 26mar2006


Shiite Fighters Clash With G.I.'s and Iraqi Forces

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN / New York Times 27mar2006


BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 26 American and Iraqi government forces clashed with Shiite militiamen in Baghdad on Sunday night in the most serious confrontation in months, and Iraqi security officials said 17 people had been killed in a mosque, including its 80-year-old imam.

The American military, clearly worried about exacerbating a combustible situation that many Iraqis are already describing as civil war, denied that American forces had entered the mosque. But it said in a statement that 16 insurgents had been killed and 15 captured in a nearby combat operation against a terrorist cell.

The differing versions of what happened seemed to underscore growing friction between the American-led military forces and the fractious Iraqi government, on a day that was punctuated with rising sectarian tensions, deepening leadership problems and at least 40 mutilated bodies surfacing in the streets 30 of them beheaded.

American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 security problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents held responsible for many of the suicide bombings, homemade bombs, kidnappings and other attacks since American-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein three years ago.

The deadly clash in Baghdad on Sunday could also reopen an old wound: the Iraqis who were killed had apparently worked for Moktada al-Sadr, a young radical Shiite cleric with ties to Iran who has led several bloody rebellions against American forces.

In recent months Mr. Sadr has become much more politically engaged and is considered a pivotal force in the maneuvering over the delayed formation of a new Iraqi government.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Sadr's home near the southern holy city of Najaf was apparently the intended target of a mortar attack from an unidentified source, and he accused the Americans of trying to kill him.

American officials have been more overt in the past week than ever in blaming Shiite militias, in particular Mr. Sadr's, for a wave of sectarian bloodshed that seems to have no end.

American and Iraqi Army forces surrounded a mosque in northeast Baghdad on Sunday night that is also used as a headquarters for Mr. Sadr's militia, Iraqi officials said. Helicopters buzzed overhead as a fleet of heavily armed Humvees sealed off the exits, witnesses said, and when soldiers tried to enter the mosque, shooting erupted, and a heavy-caliber gun battle raged for the next hour.

The Interior Ministry said 17 people were killed, including the mosque's 80-year-old imam and other civilians.

Sheik Yousif al-Nasiri, an aide to Mr. Sadr, said that 25 people were killed and that American troops shot the mosque guards and then burst inside and killed civilians.

American officials said they could not provide many details on Sunday night.

A short news release said that Iraqi Special Forces, advised by American Special Forces, conducted a raid to "disrupt a terrorist cell" and that 16 insurgents were killed and 15 suspects captured.

The news release said "no mosques were entered or damaged during this operation."

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, an Army spokesman, said he could not comment on any reports of civilian casualties, including the imam.

Iraqi television showed what appeared to be a prayer room filled with more than a dozen bodies. Several of them looked well beyond military age. Some had identification cards lying on their chests, jagged bullet holes cut through the plastic.

Just one day earlier, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, urged Iraqi leaders to crack down on militias.

"More Iraqis are dying from the militia violence than from the terrorists," he said. "The militias need to be under control."

But few expect Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to do anything soon.

He is embroiled in negotiations over who will serve in the next government, and despite continuous American prodding, little progress has been made.

To a large extent, Mr. Jaafari needs the support of Shiite militia members in Parliament to hold on to his job.

Both Shiites and Sunnis have militias. But the Shiite militias are much bigger, much better organized and, most critically, much better connected to the Iraqi security forces.

Shiites make up a majority in Iraq, and two rounds of elections have tightened their grip on power, including over the police and commando forces.

Tensions between Shiites and Sunnis have been steadily building, but an attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22 unleashed a new level of sectarian fury.

Shiite mobs rampaged through Baghdad, burning Sunni mosques and killing Sunni civilians. Some Sunnis fought back, killing Shiites.

The situation eventually calmed, at least on the surface. Then the bodies starting turning up. The Interior Ministry says that the bodies of at least 200 men, many handcuffed and tortured, have been found, but others put the number much higher.

The widespread suspicion is that Shiite militias are running death squads and focusing on Sunni Arab civilians in a wave of sectarian revenge.

Witnesses have said that they have seen Shiite militiamen and officers in the Shiite-controlled police force abduct Sunni men, often in daylight and in public. Their bodies surface days later, many tortured eyes gouged, toes cut, faces splashed with acid. Few, if any, cases are investigated.

The growing belief is that Shiite militias are trying to get even for the Shiite civilians who have been killed by the thousands and have borne the burnt of terrorist attacks in Iraq. Sunni terrorists are thought to be responsible, and now it seems that Sunni civilians are paying the price.

"It's hard sometimes to sort out who's killing who," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, an American military spokesman. "But there's no doubt there's a significant Shiite impact on all this."

Mr. Sadr has complicated the picture in two ways. His militia, called the Madhi Army, has shown an almost messianic zeal to fight American forces, including the long and costly battle in Najaf in the summer of 2004.

Now, his militia is being blamed at least in part for the new problem, the death squads.

Mr. Sadr's top aides deny any connection to the killings, but lower-level Madhi Army commanders have boasted of vigilante justice.

Two weeks ago, Madhi Army militiamen hanged four men, whom they called terrorists, from lampposts in Baghdad.

Mr. Sadr has been quick to lash out at the Americans, whom he calls occupiers. After the mortar attack near his home on Sunday, he said in a statement that American forces " either overlook these attacks or they do it themselves."

The mortar wounded a child and a guard.

Other mortar attacks and bombings across Iraq on Sunday killed at least three people, including two children.

The most gruesome report of violence for the day came from officials in Baquba, who said Sunday evening that 30 men had been beheaded and dumped near a highway.

Interior Ministry officials said a driver discovered the bodies heaped in a pile next to the highway that links Baghdad to Baquba, a volatile city northeast of Baghdad that has been racked by sectarian and insurgent violence.

Iraqi Army troops waited for American support before venturing into the insurgent-controlled area to retrieve them.

"It's too dangerous for us to go in there alone," said Tassin Tawfik, an Iraqi Army commander.

Later, Baquba officials said they were unable to find the bodies but would continue the search at daybreak.

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said that American forces raided a small, secret jail and found several foreign prisoners, possibly people suspected of being terrorists. The soldiers detained the jail guards, though it is not clear for how long, and American officials did not provide any information about the incident. The Associated Press quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying that the prison was legitimate and that the detainees had not been abused.

Also on Sunday, a Kurdish writer was sentenced to a year and a half in jail for criticizing Kurdish leaders. The writer, Kamal Sayid Qadir, who also uses the name Kamal Karim, had published stories on a Kurdish Web site accusing one of the most powerful men in Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, of corruption.

Mr. Qadir was originally sentenced to 30 years for defaming Mr. Barzani, but he was retried. A judge on Sunday said he was giving him a lenient sentence because Mr. Qadir was a college professor.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/27/international/middleeast/27iraq.html?ei=5094&en=2576108f335c6b89&hp=&ex=1143435600&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print 26mar2006

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