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Baghdad death squads kill 60, bombs kill 22

Reuters | September 13, 2006
By Alastair Macdonald and Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD - Police recovered 60 bodies over the past day across Baghdad, most bound and tortured, officials said on Wednesday, highlighting how sectarian death squads are still plaguing the Iraqi capital despite a major security drive.

Two car bombs targeting police killed 22 people in the morning and wounded another 76 people. The first killed 14 outside Baghdad's traffic police headquarters, a second targeted guards at an electricity station in the east of the city.

At the White House, where President Bush has been defending his Iraq policy ahead of congressional elections, a spokeswoman said: "The violence is horrible ... We are working closely with the Iraqi government in order to turn the tide."

U.S. and Iraqi leaders say the biggest threat to Iraq no longer comes from the three-year-old revolt among ousted President Saddam Hussein's fellow Sunni Muslims but from the bloodshed between Sunnis and the Shi'ite majority now in power.

Parliamentary leaders met and failed to break deadlock over the issue of "federalism" -- Shi'ites want sweeping autonomy for their oil-rich southern provinces to match that of ethnic Kurds in the north. Sunnis want the constitution amended to strengthen the Baghdad government. Some fear civil war could result.

The deaths of two more U.S. soldiers were confirmed, one in Anbar province, where the commander denied suggestions his force had lost control to al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgents but said stabilizing the western desert region would be a job for Iraqi politicians and their U.S.-trained troops and police.


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Iran's Shi'ite Islamist leaders have pledged support, drawing a wary response from Washington which accused Tehran of funding militants in Iraq.

Khamenei called on the 145,000 U.S. troops to leave immediately: "Most problems in Iraq will be removed with the departure of the occupiers," state media quoted him as saying.

Maliki, too, says he wants the Americans gone, but not until Iraqi forces are capable of handling the violence they face.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said most Middle East leaders had told him they believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a disaster for the region, but he said they were divided over whether international forces should pull out now, or stay.

"The U.S. has found itself in a position where it cannot stay and it cannot leave," Annan told a news conference in New York. "I believe, if it has to leave, the timing has to be optimum and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region."

In an apparent shift of emphasis, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the central mission of U.S. troops in Iraq was to train Iraqi forces to take over security, not to "subdue every bad guy in the country. That would be failure. That would mean that we have to occupy Iraq forever."


An Iraq Interior Ministry official and sources at Baghdad police headquarters said 60 unidentified bodies had been found, freshly killed, in various parts of Baghdad over the past day.

The tally was among the highest of late, despite a month-old security crackdown by reinforced U.S. and Iraqi troops.

"But we've had worse days," the Interior Ministry official said. "Sometimes we sent 65 or even 100 to the morgue."

The United Nations estimated two months ago that about 100 people a day were being killed in a covert sectarian dirty war.

U.S. commanders say more troops on the streets, sweeping through violent neighborhoods, reduced the "murder rate" by more than 40 percent in August. That figure included individual shootings but not bigger attacks such as bombings.

The bloodshed has made tens of thousands flee areas where they are in a minority, hardening a divide along the Tigris between mainly Sunni west Baghdad and the mostly Shi'ite east.

Parliament's Sunni speaker met leaders of major blocs to try to break deadlock over proposed legislation ahead of a looming constitutional deadline, but there was little progress. Further talks were set for Saturday.

At Saddam's trial for genocide against the Kurds in 1988 the prosecution asked the judge to resign for being too lenient in letting the defendants make speeches and intimidating comments to witnesses. The judge refused.


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