A prominent Shiite politician was killed Tuesday and more than a dozen other Iraqis were slain on the anniversary of Iraq's first year of sovereignty, a day its first Kurdish president described as being "blessed" despite the violence wracking most of his country.
Jalal Talabani said that although the anniversary of America's hand over of power and the formal end to occupation was cause for jubilation, Iraq's true day of celebration should be Jan. 30 — when people voted in their first free elections in more than half-a-century.
"This is a blessed day, which saw the restoration of independence and national sovereignty," Talabani said after a meeting with the U.S. and British envoys to Iraq, the two countries which were the driving force behind the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein two years ago.
Separately, more than 1,000 U.S. troops and Iraqi forces launched Operation Sword in a bid to crush insurgents and foreign fighters in western Iraq, making it the third major offensive in the area in recent weeks.
The campaigns have failed to stem a Sunni-dominated insurgency that has killed more than 1,360 people — mostly civilians and Iraqi forces — since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-dominated government April 28.
Relentless attacks since al-Jaafari's government took office have sparked an escalation of sectarian tensions and fears of civil war.
In other developments:National Assembly legislator Sheik Dhari Ali al-Fayadh, his son, and two bodyguards were killed when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into theirs as they traveled to parliament from their farm in Rashidiya, 20 miles northeast of Baghdad. Al-Fayadh, a Shiite in his late 80s, was the eldest member of the new parliament and had acted as temporary speaker. He belonged to the country's largest Shiite political party. It marked the second political assassination in a week.President Bush is using the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty to try to ease Americans' doubts about the mission and outline a winning strategy for a violent conflict that has cost the lives of more than 1,740 U.S. troops and has no end in sight. In a prime-time address from Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division, Mr. Bush is to argue that there is no need to change course in Iraq despite the upsetting images produced by daily insurgent attacks.But on the anniversary, some of the fighting has eased, particularly in a Baghdad slum, which was a former terror hotbed, CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports. Once-armed followers of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr are now working with Iraqi police to maintain a plainclothes neighborhood watch, sanctioned by the U.S. Military.U.S. troops allegedly killed an Iraqi television director Tuesday when he drove near a U.S. convoy, colleagues and a hospital official said. The U.S. military said it had no reports of the incident. Ahmed Wael Bakri, a program director for al-Sharqiya television, was the third Iraqi journalist allegedly killed in similar incidents in the past week. He was trying to pass a traffic accident and wasn't paying attention to a U.S. convoy when troops allegedly opened fire at his car, according to Riyadh al-Salman, a production director at the station.A U.S. soldier died in a suicide car bomb blast in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, and another soldier was killed by a car bomb in Tikrit, the military said. At least 1,743 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. A suicide car bomb killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another north of Baghdad on Tuesday, the military said. The attack occurred near a coalition military base in Balad, 50 miles north of the capital. The soldier belonged to Task Force Liberty, but the military withheld identification pending notification of relatives. The wounded soldier had non-life threatening wounds and was take to a military hospital.Five people were killed and at least nine others were injured Tuesday in one of three car bomb explosions in a city north of Baghdad, police said. They were killed when a car bomb exploded just 15 yards from the headquarters of a police station housing an Iraqi quick reaction force in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Capt. Nihad Jamal Ibrahim of the city police said. The other two exploded near a gas station but caused no injures while the third detonated in downtown Baqouba. No one was injured in that blast as police had time to cordon off the area, police Col. Mudhafar Al-Mujamaie said.A suicide car bomber slammed into a convoy carrying Kirkuk traffic police chief Brig. Gen. Salar Ahmed, killing one of his bodyguards and a civilian in the northern city, police Lt. Assad Mohammed said. Four were wounded, including Ahmed and three of his bodyguards. Kirkuk is 180 miles north of Baghdad.The number of telephone and Internet subscribers in Iraq has increased nearly threefold, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution, and the number of trained Iraqi judges has doubled.
Talabani said the country would not be deterred by political assassinations and its security forces were working to eradicate the insurgency.
"We think that the Iraqi forces, police and army, have managed to clear many areas of terrorists and scored successes, but they are still at the beginning and will continue working. We do not doubt that the rebels will also try to retaliate. Their tactics are well-known such as car bombs and assassinations of all whom they do not like," Talabani said.
Efforts to include more Sunni Arabs in the political process suffered another setback Tuesday when parliament again postponed setting up an expanded committee to draft the constitution — which must be ready by Aug. 15 so as to be approved by referendum in October.
The postponement came after the committee said Sunni leaders, who nominated 15 representatives for the 71-member body, failed to endorse the list. Some objections also arose over candidates who allegedly were once senior members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party.
"This is a serious issue that hinders the political process," Sunni Arab legislator Abdul-Rahman al-Noami said of the accusations. "We have a short time ahead of us and we shouldn't focus on this. Why are they bringing this up now?"
Asked about the development, Talabani said although "we are strongly eager that the Sunni brothers be represented in the constitution committee" they should "not have one leg in the rebellion and another leg in the political process."