Iraqi government postpones reconciliation conference
Insurgent propaganda declares an Islamic state in six provinces.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's government indefinitely postponed a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference Sunday as a two-day spree of sectarian revenge killings and insurgent bombings left at least 86 Iraqis dead.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, said three Marines and four soldiers were killed from Friday through Sunday, the latest deaths in an especially bloody month. Hundreds of Iraqis have died in attacks and more than 50 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the first two weeks alone.
The three Marines were killed in western Anbar province, the military said. Three of the soldiers died in a roadside bombing Saturday south of Baghdad, while the fourth was killed in a roadside bombing Friday southwest of the capital.
Elsewhere, a militant network that includes al-Qaida in Iraq announced in a video that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces, a propaganda push in its drive to force the withdrawal of U.S. forces and topple the American-backed Iraqi government.
The Mujahedeen Shura Council -- an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq -- said the new state was made up of six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shiite.
Responding to the statement, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Meshhedani, derided the group's leaders as "vulgar with no religion, who only kill others under the pretext of jihad (holy war)."
"Those who believe in this council are ignorant and those who follow it are foolish," al-Meshhedani said. "This council caused the sectarian conflict as well the displacement of both Shiites and Sunnis."
The militants' announcement appeared mainly symbolic, since no Iraqi insurgent group has the strength or authority to act as a rival government and none controls territory.
It underscored, however, the weakness of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and its inability to bring Iraq's deeply divided politicians together.
In announcing postponement of the reconciliation conference, the Ministry of State for National Dialogue said only that the gathering, which was planned for Saturday, had been put off for "emergency reasons out of the control of the ministry." The move reflected the upheaval worsening violence has wrought on efforts to stabilize the government and curb bloodshed.
The postponement could deeply damage the al-Maliki administration, which took office just over four months ago vowing to implement a 24-point National Reconciliation plan to heal the nation's severe political wounds.
Al-Maliki did not comment on the postponement, but issued a message to the Iraqi people Sunday praising them for approving the country's first post-Saddam Hussein constitution exactly one year ago, while acknowledging the document's adoption had intensified the insurgency.
"It is your vote on the constitution that forced the terrorists ... to commit horrific massacres against innocent civilians and violate the sanctity of holy places, destroy infrastructure, obstruct reconstruction and services," he said.
Weekend revenge killings among Shiites and Sunnis left at least 63 people dead in Balad, a city north of Baghdad, while 11 people died Sunday in a series of apparently coordinated bombings of a girls school and other targets in the northern city of Kirkuk, where Kurds and Arabs are in a tense struggle for control of the oil-rich city.
Extra police flooded into Balad to enforce a curfew and additional security measures were taken in other villages in the region around Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.
In Baghdad, Interior Ministry undersecretary Hala Shakir Salim survived a roadside bomb attack that killed seven others, police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said. The Interior Ministry runs Iraqi police forces.
Three people were killed in a mortar attack on the capital's troubled Dora district, while gunmen killed four members of a family in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
South of Baghdad, three women and four men were killed in drive-by shootings in the predominantly Shiite village of Wahda on Saturday afternoon, police reported.
Also Saturday, two Egyptians, both small businessmen married to Iraqi women, were slain near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to police in surrounding Diyala province. The identities of the gunmen and their motives were not known.
Also Sunday, the U.S. military announced Iraq's Central Criminal Court had sentenced an al-Qaida member to death and convicted 64 others on charges of belonging to armed groups and other crimes, the U.S. military command said Sunday.
The military's statement did not name the man condemned to death, but said he was a "known member of the al-Qaida organization." Others sentenced to life in prison included a Saudi Arabian man that the court said had admitted coming to Iraq to fight U.S. and government forces.
Associated Press writers Qais al-Bashir in Baghdad and Omar Sinan in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.