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United States congressional vote divides Iraqis along sectarian lines

Saturday, April 28, 2007

BAGHDAD -- Many Sunnis on Friday welcomed a U.S. congressional push to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by Oct. 1, but one store owner expressed fear the move would "leave Iraq in the hands of al-Qaida."

Iraqis appeared divided along sectarian lines over Thursday's Senate approval of House-passed legislation calling for U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1. President Bush pledged to veto the measure and neither body passed the measure with enough votes to override him.

A 42-year-old Sunni teacher in Baghdad said the idea had his full support, but he doubted it would happen.

"I think that yesterday's vote and the threats by Bush to use the veto are nothing but political games played in Washington, and we have been paying the price for these games since 2003. In fact, I see no U.S. withdrawal on the horizon," Assad Yassin said.

Majority Shiites and their Kurdish allies, meanwhile, echoed the opinion of the Shiite-led government, which warned the Oct. 1 start date was too soon.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also warned that the congressional decision "sends wrong signals" to militants.

Many Sunnis have opposed the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, which ended Saddam Hussein's government and cleared the way for majority Shiites and minority Kurds to dominate government.

Friday's public reaction to the congressional vote was mixed along sectarian lines.

"This is a wrong move by the Democrats," said Muhei Hadi, Shiite municipal counselor in Baghdad. "The U.S. forces must stay in Iraq until Iraqi forces are really qualified to face terrorists. I hope that Bush will use his veto."

Wisam Abdullah, 28, a Sunni restaurant owner in Basra, said: "All Iraqis want the U.S. Army to leave our country."

But in Basra, where Shiite militias are competing for influence as British troops prepare to begin leaving the area, even Abdullah seemed worried.

"I do not think that now is the best time to ask for the U.S. withdrawal," he said.

As Iraqis pondered their future, the U.S. military said three U.S. Marines were killed Thursday in fighting in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The deaths raised to at least 3,337 members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 19 people were reported killed or found dead by police, including 16 bullet-riddled bodies -- seven in Baghdad, six pulled from the Tigris River south of the capital, and three in the northeastern city of Baqouba.

A roadside bomb killed a civilian after missing its target of a police patrol in the northern city of Mosul, and a human-rights activist was shot to death in Kirkuk, police said. A mortar attack also killed a Shiite man and wounded another in Nahrawan, east of Baghdad.

Authorities have sought to curb the violence on Fridays by imposing a weekly four-hour driving ban in Baghdad to protect prayer services on the Islamic day of rest.

U.S.-led forces also staged a series of raids, capturing nine suspected insurgents who were linked to al-Qaida in Iraq -- five in the northern city of Mosul, one near Salman Pak southeast of Baghdad, one in the capital and two near Ramadi.

Four suspected members of a cell believed to be smuggling sophisticated roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran also were captured during a raid in the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, the military said.

In January, U.S. officials said at least 170 U.S. soldiers had been killed by the armor-piercing EFPs since 2004.

The cell also was allegedly smuggling militants from Iraqi to Iran for terrorist training and has ties to a kidnapping network that conducts attacks within Iraq, the military said.

The Pentagon announced separately the capture of Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a Mosul native and one of al-Qaida's most senior and most experienced operatives. He was caught while trying to return to Iraq and was transferred to Defense Department custody this week from the CIA, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. military also released more details about a U.S. officer accused of aiding the enemy for allegedly providing an unmonitored cell phone to detainees while he commanded an MP detachment at the jail that held Saddam Hussein, saying he is a full-time reservist from Prince George, Va.

Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele, 51, faces nine charges in all, including fraternizing with a prisoner's daughter, storing and marking classified material, maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, and possessing pornographic videos.

The rare charges were among the most serious levied against a senior American officer in Iraq, but were the latest in a series of embarrassments for the U.S. military detention system here.

Steele was detained in March and is being held in Kuwait pending an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing.


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