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Two-Day Surge Of Bloodshed In Iraq

A spree of bloodshed that killed nearly 200 people in two days, including 11 U.S. troops, threatened a backlash from Shiite militias as Iraq's largest religious group rallied thousands Friday against what it claimed was American backing for Sunni Arab politicians who have supported insurgent groups. Meanwhile, al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a videotape aired Friday that the United States' decision to withdraw some troops from Iraq represented "the victory of Islam" and called on Muslims to attack oil sites.

Military officials announced the deaths of six more U.S. troops killed in the recent violence that's swept Iraq, bringing to 11 the number of Americans slain on the same day.

In Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City slum and in its northern Kazimiyah suburb, thousands of angry Shiites rallied to condemn twin suicide attacks Thursday that killed at least 136 people, including the U.S. troops.

The protesters also denounced what they claimed was American backing for Sunni Arabs politicians who have supported insurgent groups and are now protesting that last month's elections were tainted by fraud.

Final results from the Dec. 15 elections could be released next week and they are expected to show the religious Shiite United Iraqi Alliance with a strong lead. They Shiites will, however, require support from Kurdish and Sunni Arab political groups to form a viable coalition government.

In other developments:

  • Gunmen kidnapped a female American journalist and killed her Iraqi translator in western Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said Saturday.
  • About 5,000 Shiites rallied in Baghdad to protest the bloodshed and denounce what they said was American backing of some Sunni politicians who have supported or at least failed to condemn insurgent groups in order to bring them into a broad-based government. Shiites in the Sadr City slum chanted slogans against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and moderate Sunni Arab leaders such as Adnan al-Dulaimi. Most of their ire was directed at hard-liners such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front, who complained of widespread fraud in the Dec. 15 elections.
  • In new violence Friday, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in Baghdad, killing one officer, Col. Noori Ashur said.
  • By highlighting recent economic advances in a speech Friday, President Bush took an opportunity to turn attention away from the conflict in Iraq. "By the way, we're going to win the war," he added as an aside.
  • Elsewhere, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held talks in southern Iraq with local officials on forming a broad-based coalition government. Straw's unannounced visit was an "opportune time to get an up-to-date report on what's happening with the political discussions and the security situation" in the four provinces under British responsibility, according to the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with Foreign Ministry protocol.
  • The three main attacks Thursday all took place within an hour. The death toll was the largest single-day total since Sept. 14, when 162 died. The U.S. Embassy said it was appalled by the attacks. "This terror aims simply to kill innocent Iraqis and provoke further conflict between them," the embassy said.
  • A Thursday suicide blast near the Imam Hussein shrine killed 63 people and wounded 120. That day's other attack took place in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and killed 58.
  • A U.S. Marine and soldier died in the Ramadi attack by a suicide bombwe who infiltrated a line of police recruits. Two soldiers were also killed near Baghdad when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb. Two U.S. Marines were killed by separate small arms attacks while conducting combat operations in Fallujah.
  • The military had previously announced the deaths of five soldiers hit by a roadside bomb south of Karbala.
  • Al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban and gray robe and seated next to an automatic rifle, waved his finger for emphasis as he spoke in the two-minute excerpt aired by Al-Jazeera.

    "I congratulate (the Islamic nation) for the victory of Islam in Iraq," he said.

    Al-Zawahri apparently was referring to comments last month by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said President Bush had authorized new troop cuts below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of last year.

    Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the cut, but the Pentagon said the reductions would be about 7,000 troops, about the size of two combat brigades. The Pentagon has not announced a timetable for the reductions, but indications are that the force could be cut significantly by the end of this year.

    "You remember I told you more than a year ago that the American withdrawal from Iraq is only a matter of time, and here they are now ... negotiating with the mujahedeen," al-Zawahri said.

    The rallies and threats by the Iraq's largest Shiite religious party to react with force if the militant attacks don't cease have renewed fears that paramilitary militias — now thought to constitute some elite police units would take to the streets.

    Sunni Arabs have complained that often brutal methods used by Interior Ministry forces — known by names such as the Scorpions and the Wolf Brigade — have already pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war.

    In Sadr City, more than 5,000 demonstrators chanted slogans in favor of the Interior Ministry and against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and moderate Sunni Arab leaders, such as leading politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. But they reserved most of their ire for hard-liners such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, the outspoken head of the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front.

    "We're going to crush Saleh al-Mutlaq with our slippers," they chanted, many armed with automatic weapons. "No, no to Zalmay. No, no to terrorism."

    Many vented anger over what they said was American backing for Sunnis Arab parties that either supported insurgent groups, or failed to condemn them. U.S. officials have said the inclusion of such parties is necessary for a broad-based government to have the legitimacy to deflate the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

    "We denounce such irresponsible statements by some parties and we condemn all the terrorist acts that target Iraqis, regardless of their sect," al-Mutlaq told The Associated Press. "No government post is worth a single drop of Iraqi. Our decision to join the political process means that we reject terrorism."

    The demonstration was organized after Friday prayers by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — one of two religious parties that makes up the governing Alliance.

    SCIRI and Badr Brigade Secretary-General Hadi al-Amiri have both blamed hardline Sunni groups of inciting the violence, and said the Defense and Interior ministries — both dominated by Shiites — were being restrained by the U.S-led coalition and had to be unleashed.

    Al-Amiri said a special committee had been formed to deal with the issue and visited Khalilzad. There was no comment from the U.S. Embassy on the claim.

    He told the pan-Arab Al-Arabyia television that U.S. forces "limit the movement of the two Iraqi ministries with the pretext of calming the situation and encouraging the emergence of the political process. We told them that they should not give any cover to terrorism."

    The Badr Brigade is SCIRI's military wing. The party claims the brigade is no longer a militia but performs social and political functions. There are numerous militias around Iraq, numbering in the thousands. They include firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army — a well-organized and heavily armed militia that fought U.S. forces in 2004.Khalilzad has been calling on Iraq's main groups to quickly form a broad-based coalition government once the results are relased. They include the Shiite Alliance, al-Dulaimi's Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, and a Kurdish coalition.

    "We are working with the Iraqi political leaders to build a unity government that will bring Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups together," U.S. Embassy Political councilor Robert Ford told CNN. "I don't think the Shiite leadership wants to slip into broader civil strife and neither does the Sunni Arab leadership."

    The recent attacks, he contended, were a sign that the political process was drawing Sunni Arab groups into politics and away from insurgency — which has angered radical militants.