Three huge bombs killed at least 62 people in Baghdad and Kirkuk on the eve of Maliki’s first trip to the West since being named prime minister three months ago in a unity government.
Saddam Hussein’s mass murder trial resumed without the ousted leader. Sixteen days into a hunger strike, Saddam is boycotting the court and being fed through a tube.
Maliki stopped in London to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his way to the United States for talks with President George W. Bush, leaders of the two countries whose 140,000 soldiers in Iraq have failed to stop the killing there.
In east Baghdad, shattered vehicles showed the power of one of Sunday’s blasts, which killed 34 people. Blood lay in pools.
While Maliki visited London on Monday more bombers struck in Samarra, two parts of Baghdad, and twice in Mosul, killing at least nine and wounding nearly 30. Gunmen killed civilians in attacks reported in Kut, Hilla, Kerbala and Mosul.
“There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders … are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue,” Maliki told BBC radio. “Civil war will not happen to Iraq.”
But even top Iraqi officials are already privately calling it just that. “If this is not civil war … then I don’t know what is,” a senior government official told Reuters on Sunday.
Maliki confirmed U.N. data showing an average of 100 civilians a day were killed in May and June. Asked how long Iraq would need foreign troops, he said he expected improvements in Iraq’s ability to police itself by the end of the year.
“It is definitely not decades, not even years,” he said. “There are certain aspects of our local forces that need development. When that happens, foreign troops can start leaving.” He said disarming ethnic militias was key, and the government had a plan to do it.
“We have reached an agreement in the government that we will have to confront them (the militias) and deal with them.”
But those efforts look stalled. On Saturday, the main party from Saddam’s once dominant Sunni Arab minority stayed away from the first meeting of a Reconciliation Commission that Maliki has called the “last chance” for peace.
Sunnis, whose community has rebelled for the past three years against U.S. occupation and Shi’ite majority rule, accuse Shi’ite militia death squads of targeting them.
U.S. officials also now say such sectarian violence is a greater threat than the Sunni insurgency.
The Americans fought heavy clashes over the weekend with members of the Shi’ite Mehdi Army, the vast militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, killing at least 14 militants in Mussayab, south of Baghdad, and arresting eight for suspected “death squad” activity after clashes in Sadr City.
Defense lawyers boycotted Monday’s session of the trial of Saddam and seven others for the killing of 148 Shi’ites in the town of Dujail in 1982. Â
The U.S. military said Saddam’s health was not yet critical in the third week of his hunger strike. Saddam, 69, has been drinking sweet coffee and liquid nourishment and receiving “psychological counseling” to persuade him to eat.
Adding to the chaos of the trial, which is nearing its end, Saddam’s half-brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan al-Tikriti, said he refused his court-appointed attorney and demanded he be allowed to leave the chamber.
“I am here against my will,” he said.
“The decision of your lawyers not to attend the court is for the purpose of the media only. I want to ask you how long you and your lawyers will continue to play this game with the court,” he said.
“Enough blood,” he told Barzan later. “Your hands have been saturated with blood since your childhood.”