Iraq's Shiite PM Points Finger At Sunnis

Iraqis inspect the wreckage of a car at the site where a car bomb exploded at a neighborhood in central Baghdad, 12 November 2006.
Iraq's Shiite prime minister promised Sunday to reshuffle his Cabinet after calling lawmakers disloyal and blaming Sunni Muslims for raging sectarian violence that claimed at least 159 more lives, including 35 men blown apart while waiting to join Iraq's police force.

Among the unusually high number of dead were 50 bodies found behind a regional electrical company in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and 25 others found scattered throughout the capital. Three U.S. troops were reported killed, as were four British service members.

Also Sunday, the country's Sunni defense minister challenged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's contention that the U.S. military should quickly pull back into bases and let the Iraqi army take control of security countrywide.

Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi rejected calls by al-Maliki for the U.S. military to speed transfer of security operations throughout the country to the Iraqi army, saying his men still were too poorly equipped and trained to do the job.

"We are working hard to create a real army and we ask our government not to try to move too quickly because of the political pressure it feels. Our technical needs are real and that is very important, if we are to be a real force against insecurity," al-Obaidi said.

Al-Maliki wants the Americans confined to bases for him to call on in emergencies, but he boldly predicted his army could crush violence within six months if left alone to do the work.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey last month said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraq's army was ready to take control of the country with some U.S. backup.

Key lawmakers from al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party said that in the coming Cabinet shake up, which the prime minister promised during a closed-door parliament session Sunday, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post because police and security forces were failing to quell the unbridled sectarian killing that has reached civil war proportions in Baghdad and the center of the country.

Al-Bolani, a Shiite who was chosen in June and a month after al-Maliki's government was formed, is an independent. The United States demanded that the defense and interior posts be held by officials without ties to the Shiite political parties that control militia forces.

Al-Maliki is under pressure both from his people and the United States to curb violence, with Washington leaning on him to disband Shiite militias believed responsible, through their death squads, for much of the killings.

Al-Maliki is dependent on both Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with its Badr Brigade military wing, and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement for his hold on power.

The interior minister controls police and other security forces which already are infiltrated by the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of al-Sadr's political movement.

After nearly 48 hours without reporting a death, the U.S. military said three soldiers assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division died Saturday of combat wounds in Anbar Province, the insurgent stronghold west of the capital. Their deaths raised to 2,848 the number of service members who have had died since the start of the war in March 2003.

Four British servicemen were killed in an attack on a patrol boat in Basra's Shatt al-Arab waterway, southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defense said in London.

In other developments:

  • Slovakian officials say a Slovak and a Polish solider were killed by a roadside bomb. Slovakia's prime minister says his country will pull its troops out of Iraq in February.
  • Some National Guard combat brigades could be sent back to Iraq for a second tour of duty, says the guard's top general, Lieutenant General Steven Blum. The Pentagon's plan would force it to depart from a previous decision not to deploy reserves for more than a cumulative 24 months in Iraq. For some units, a second tour would mean they would likely exceed that two-year maximum.
  • President Bush and his national security team will meet Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group trying to devise a new course for the war in Iraq. Robert Gates, picked by Mr. Bush to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, has been a member of the group. He is resigning and will not take part in Monday's meetings. Lawrence Eagleburger, the secretary of state at the end of President George H.W. Bush's term, will replace him.
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he will have a video conference with the Iraq Survey Group on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Blair said she could not speculate on what he might say on Tuesday. But the Guardian newspaper reports that he will urge the White House to open talks with Iran and Syria regarding Iraq.