19 die in Baghdad roadside bombs

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Four separate roadside bomb attacks killed at least 19 people in Baghdad on Tuesday, police sources said, as US troops made new efforts to try to rid the capital of powerful factions and insurgents.The deadliest bombing killed at least 10 people and wounded 69 in the Shorja market in central Baghdad.

Earlier, two blasts targeting police and another aimed at one of Baghdad’s busiest bus stations killed nine people, the police sources said. Eight people were wounded in those attacks.

The United States has boosted its troop levels in the Iraqi capital to try to stop insurgent and sectarian violence, which has raised fears of full-blown civil war, from escalating.

But the campaign is likely to hit political minefields.

Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s government has vowed to confront factions blamed for fanning tensions, but must tread carefully as some of the armed groups have close ties to political parties, including ones in his own ruling alliance.

The Shiite Islamist spoke up against his American allies after US and Iraqi forces fought Shiite fighters in Baghdad during a raid on a suspected death squad on Monday.

“This operation is rejected and it was conducted without the agreement of the government, and it does not match the current national reconciliation environment in the country,” Maliki told Iraqiya state television on Monday night.

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said efforts were under way to end sectarian bloodletting.

“Meetings have taken place between forces of armed groups to reach an agreement to have assigned pledges for ending sectarian attacks on each other,” he told reporters at a US base in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit.

“There is more that needs to be done … There is an effort to reach a moral compact between religious forces, Sunnis and Shiites, to ban sectarian violence.”

 

100 deaths each day

 

 It will not be easy. Violence claims around 100 lives every day and is sapping confidence in the new government.

National Security Adviser Mowaffaq Rubaie said he was encouraged by the meetings between Shiite and Sunni leaders.

“They have sworn on the Koran they will stop killing each other,” he said.

US and Iraqi forces launched the second phase of Operation Together Forward on Monday in a bid to reduce violence in Baghdad.

“We must dramatically reduce the level of violence in Baghdad that is fuelling sectarianism,” said Major General James Thurman, commander of US-led forces in the Baghdad area, in a statement.

About 6,000 additional Iraqi forces and 3,500 US soldiers of the 172nd Striker  Brigade  combat team are being deployed in the Baghdad area in the crackdown.

The first phase of the operation, which began on July 9, killed or captured 411 murderers associated with death squads, said the statement.

In further lawlessness, gunmen stormed a bank in Baghdad’s northern Adhamiya district and killed at least five people before walking away with the equivalent of $4,000.

The top US officer in Iraq, General George Casey, said on Monday US and Iraqi troops would drive fighters and “death squads” from Baghdad by the Holy Month of Ramadan, which falls in late September this year.

Aside from showing he can take control of the country, Maliki is also faced with the task of proving he can take a tough stand on abuse of Iraqis at the hands of US troops.

A US military court deciding whether four soldiers should be court-martialled for rape and murder heard how troops were “driven nuts” by combat stress and got high on Iraqi cough syrup.

Private First Class Justic Cross described how conditions “pretty much crushed the platoon”, which lived in constant fear of being killed in the Mahmoudiya area south of Baghdad where the rape and murders took place in March.

On Monday, the court at Camp Liberty heard graphic testimony of how three of the soldiers took turns raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family.

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