A radical Shiite cleric who led two major uprisings against American forces is now calling for Iraqis to exercise self-restraint and avoid violence. Meanwhile, insurgents killed six policemen and a government worker in six separate shootings across central Iraq, officials said.
In quotes taken from transcripts of an interview released by the BBC, Muqtada al-Sadr kept open the possibility of returning to armed resistance, but said Iraqis should not be provoked into violence. While condemning the U.S. presence in Iraq, he said that the U.S. "does not want confrontation."
Al-Sadr has called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces from Iraq and has opposed elections while Iraq is under "occupation."
"The occupation in itself is a problem," al-Sadr said in the BBC interview scheduled for broadcast Monday. "Iraq not being independent is the problem. And the other problems stem from that — from sectarianism to civil war, the entire American presence causes this."
In other developments:
In the most recently reported violence, gunmen killed four police officers, including one colonel, in three separate attacks in southern and eastern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.
One policeman was killed in a shootout between insurgents and security forces just north of Baghdad in Taji, police said. A police colonel was killed while driving his car in Samarra, 60 miles north of the capital, according to police Capt. Laith Mohammed.
Insurgents also attacked a government employee, killing a worker for the Iraqi Trade Minister in the southern neighborhood of Dora, Dr. Muhanad Jawad of the Yarmouk hospital said.
Iraqi police found the body of an unidentified man dumped on a highway in the same area with multiple gunshot wounds, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
On Sunday, four suicide car bombs killed 22 people, including an attack at the offices of Iraq's electoral commission that killed five election employees and one policeman.
The commission said in a statement that it "affirms its determination to continue the electoral process," including plans for a national referendum on a new constitution and balloting for a new government later this year.
The government also said Sunday that more than 90 people had been killed in a suicide bombing attack the night before near a Shiite mosque in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad. Hospital officials said more than 150 were injured in the blast.
Iraq's most powerful Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is deeply upset by the upsurge in suicide attacks, said Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a top Shiite politician, after meeting with the cleric on Sunday.
The cleric urged the government to protect the people in "this genocidal war," Abdul-Mahdi said. At least 170 people have been killed in suicide bombings throughout Iraq in the past week.
The Iraqi Special Tribunal on Sunday filed its first criminal case against Saddam Hussein for a 1982 massacre of Shiites and said a trial date would be set within days, despite U.S. fears a trial would inflame tensions at a time the Shiite-led government is trying to lure Sunnis away from the insurgency.
The tribunal said the investigation into the July 8, 1982, massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been completed, and the case was referred to the courts for trial. Saddam is accused of involvement in the massacre as retaliation for a failed assassination attempt as he drove through the city.
The date for the trial of Saddam and three others was expected to be determined in "the coming days," said Raid Juhi, chief judge of the tribunal. If convicted, Saddam could face the death penalty.
Some U.S. officials have quietly urged the Iraqis to proceed carefully in prosecuting Saddam as the Shiite-led government seeks to draw Sunnis away from the insurgency.