Kurds, Sunnis veto Jaafari

BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen attacked the disabled car of Iraq’s top Sunni politician on Thursday, killing one bodyguard and wounding five after the Sunni leader sped away in another vehicle. Thirty-five other people died in a new round of violence.After the attack, Adnan Dulaimi, leader of the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, refused to assign blame and called for restraint to blunt the spiralling sectarian violence that has taken about 500 lives since February 22, when a major Shiite shrine was bombed in Samarra.

“I don’t accuse any one… . I consider it accidental, and I call on my brothers for self-restraint and to contain what happened because Iraq is bigger than Adnan and his guards,” Dulaimi told the Associated Press.

Iraq’s political crisis deepened, meanwhile, as a simmering move to block Shiite Prime Minster Ibrahim Jaafari from a second term reached the boil. The turmoil has further complicated talks to form a broad-based government, which US officials consider essential to de-fanning the mainly Sunni insurgency so US troops could begin pulling out by summer.

The embattled premier and his hardline Shiite backers vowed a fight against the tangled coalition of moderate Sunnis, Kurds and secular politicians — Dulaimi among them — seeking to strip Jaafari of power in the next government.

Jaafari adviser Haider Ibadi lashed out at the prime minister’s opponents, accusing them of trying to delay the formation of a new government.

“There are some elements who have personal differences with Jaafari,” Ibadi told AP. “The alliance is still sticking to its candidate.” The move against Jaafari also drew sharp opposition from radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

“We will not abandon Jaafari,” said a close aide to the anti-American Sadr, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the dispute.

“If they insist on removing Jaafari, the Sadrist trend will choose one of its members as a candidate.” Jaafari owed his one-vote victory as the Shiite prime minister nominee to Sadr’s backing in February 12 ballot among Shiite lawmakers. He defeated Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the candidate of Shiite Alliance leader Abdul-Aziz Hakim — who often is at odds with Sadr.

Reflecting those differences, Reda Jawad Taqi, a Hakim aide, said Thursday night that representatives of the largest parliamentary bloc would meet Jaafari opponents to “learn what is behind their position. We will not reject their demand (to meet). Everything is negotiable.” Sadr’s militiamen were believed behind many of the attacks against Sunni mosques last week, and there are others in the Shiite camp who are alarmed at the prospect of a prime minister in debt to the young radical.

Many Sunnis blame Jaafari for failing to rein in commandoes of the Shiite-led interior ministry alleged to have committed widespread human rights abuses against them.

Kurds are angry at Jaafari for allegedly dragging his heels on resolution of their claims around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The Shiites won 130 of parliament’s 275 seats in December elections, giving them the largest bloc of lawmakers and the first chance to form a government — but not enough to govern without partners.

Not long after gunmen hit Adnan Dulaimi’s convoy Thursday afternoon, other attackers shot up cars carrying security men assigned to his fellow Sunni tribesman, Defence Minister Saadoun Dulaimi. One bodyguard was killed and five were wounded. The attacks on both Sunni heavyweights — who are not related — occurred in Ghazaliyah, a dangerous west Baghdad neighbourhood.

Elsewhere Thursday, an explosion tore through a crowd of midmorning shoppers at a vegetable market in a largely Shiite Baghdad neighbourhood, killing at least eight people and wounding 14.

In the Sadr City Shiite ghetto, a moving minibus exploded, killing at least five people and wounding 10. In the western Amariyah neighbourhood, a roadside bomb exploded near a patrol of Shiite-dominated interior ministry commandos, killing one and injuring three.

Police found the bodies of five men shot in and around Baghdad.

Gunmen also attacked a joint police-army checkpoint about 30 kilometres north of Samarra, killing six soldiers and four policemen. The attackers set fire to the bodies before fleeing. Four more policemen were killed by gunmen in the northern city of Mosul.

Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samaraie, head of the government’s Sunni Endowment, the caretaker of Sunni mosques and religious shrines, took stock of the recent sectarian violence at a news conference Thursday, reporting that 45 Sunni preachers and mosque employees had been killed.

He said 37 Sunni mosques were destroyed and 86 damaged by grenade, rocket or gun fire. Six others remained in the hands of Shiite militiamen, he said. US military officials put the figures much lower.

Another Sunni cleric was gunned down Thursday as he left a mosque after dawn prayers in Basra, in the southern Shiite heartland.

The attack against Adnan Dulaimi’s motorcade was launched after his car had a flat tyre and he quickly transferred to another car in the convoy and sped away. His blood-splashed, bullet-riddled car was carried away in a flatbed truck.

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