Violence sweeps Iraq from north to south; more than 50 killed

Monday, August 28, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A wave of bomb attacks and shootings swept Iraq on Sunday, killing dozens of people despite a massive security operation in the capital and appeals from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for an end to sectarian fighting.

Al-Maliki insisted that his government was making progress in combatting attacks by insurgents and sectarian clashes between Shiites and Sunnis.

"We're not in a civil war. Iraq will never be in a civil war," he said through an interpreter on CNN's "Late Edition." "The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing."

Asked about U.S. allegations that Iran is supporting Iraqi groups involved in sectarian violence, al-Maliki said the reports were being investigated. He said Iraqi authorities were in contact with Iran to determine the veracity of the information "and to prevent this interference."

The Shiite prime minister dodged a series of questions about Iraqi support for Hezbollah and whether his government had any intention of recognizing Israel.

Attacks across Iraq

"This issue is not on the table at this point," al-Maliki said of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, adding that the issue of Israel should be handled by "international laws."

Across Iraq, Sunday's attacks left more than 50 people dead.

A group of assailants in three cars raked an open-air night market with gunfire, killing at least 12 people and wounding 25 others, police said.

The gunmen fired indiscriminately at throngs of people at the main market of Khalis, a mostly Shiite town 50 miles north of Baghdad, Diyala provincial police said. Earlier in the day, another six people were killed and 14 wounded when a bomb exploded on the outskirts of the town.

The U.S. military command said two U.S. soldiers were killed -- one by small-arms fire in eastern Baghdad Sunday afternoon, and the other Saturday night when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb southeast of the capital.

A U.S. official also said a U.S. armored vehicle was attacked Sunday outside Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, "resulting in casualties."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the U.S. military command had not yet issued a statement on the incident, could not give details on the number of casualties or their condition.

In downtown Baghdad, a bomb in a minibus exploded outside the Palestine Hotel, killing nine people and wounding 16, while a car bomb outside the offices of a government-run newspaper left three dead and at least 29 wounded, police and witnesses said.

Two back-to-back suicide car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk killed nine people and wounded 22, hours after another suicide car bomb killed one person and wounded 16.

Bombs, shootings

In Basra, Iraq's second largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, a motorcycle bomb at a night market killed four people and wounded 15, the governor's office said.

Drive-by shootings also killed two people in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad; one in Numaniyah, a town near Kut, 100 miles southeast of the capital; and another three -- believed to be the bodyguards of a member of parliament -- in Dujail, 50 miles north of the capital, police in both cities said.

In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, police found the bodies of eight people in various parts of the city, Capt. Rasheed Al-Samerayi of Mahmoudiyah police said. All had been handcuffed and blindfolded, he said.

The U.S. military command said Iraqi and coalition forces were expanding a security operation in the capital that aims to crack down on violence neighborhood by neighborhood. Security forces were to cordon off and search all the buildings in the Sunni district of Azamiyah in north Baghdad, the command said in a statement.

Since Aug. 7, about 12,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi troops have been brought into the capital as part of the security effort, dubbed "Operation Together Forward," and have covered four of the most problematic capital neighborhoods.

The security sweep has already "resulted in a 36 percent reduction of murders across the city of Baghdad," said Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad.

British Ambassador to Iraq Dominic Asquith said that, while sectarian violence persisted, it had not reached the level of civil war.

"There is no question there is sectarian violence going on, inspired by people who are determined to fan the flames of sectarian violence," Asquith told reporters. "That sectarian violence is very focused on Baghdad. And you know well that there are large areas of Iraq that are not affected by that sectarian violence."

"I've spent some of my time in Lebanon in earlier years and this does not look to me like civil war," he said.

On Saturday, the prime minister appealed to Iraqis to support his national reconciliation plan to end the bloodshed.

But the persistent killings showed that is still a distant goal, even though it was endorsed by hundreds of tribal chiefs at a conference on Saturday who signed a "pact of honor" to support the prime minister's effort.


Associated Press writers Yahya Barzanji, Vijay Joshi and Patrick Quinn contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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