Baghdad bombs kill 19 as violence mounts

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Six car bombs killed at least 19 people across Baghdad on Thursday as Iraq’s prime minister urged the United States to give Iraqi forces more weapons and said he could bring security in three to six months if they did.

Three bombs in quick succession killed at least 10 people and wounded 30 in a wholesale vegetable market in the violent southern district of Dora, police said.

“There is no mercy any more, the people here just want to work,” Mohammad Ali Kazim, a vegetable seller, shouted angrily.

“They have followed us to this poor place. People here are Sunnis, Shiites and Christians and they just want to live.”

Earlier, a car bomb in Saadoun Street, a main commercial thoroughfare, killed four people and wounded 10. Two other car bombs killed two and three people respectively in the mainly Shiite east of the city, one of them going off near a police station.

There has been a surge of violence this week as the Iraqi government prepares to launch a US-backed security crackdown in Baghdad, widely seen as a last chance to save Iraq from an all-out sectarian civil war.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has blamed the violence on Sunni Arab followers of Saddam Hussein angered by his December 30 execution.

Iraqi officials have said they were worried that a failure of the latest security plan may also see the end of US support as President George W. Bush would be forced to change course.

Facing opposition in the Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush is also trying to shore up support within his own Republican Party for his strategy to send about 21,500 extra US troops to Iraq to stabilise Baghdad and mainly Sunni Anbar province.

But Maliki, a Shiite Islamist, told foreign newspapers in comments published on Thursday that Iraq’s need for US troops could diminish by the summer if the United States gave Iraqi security forces sufficient arms and other supplies.

“If we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down,” Britain’s Times quoted him as saying.

Asked about Maliki’s attitude to Bush’s new plan for Iraq, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said: “I think that the prime minister wanted to do this by himself, or have the Iraqis do this on their own. He wants to take the lead, he wants to show he’s in charge, he wants to show his government can deliver,” Gates told reporters in Bahrain.

“I think … that his military and security advisers suggested to him that their own forces needed some help from the Americans. I think he probably wishes that weren’t so and so it really doesn’t surprise me that he has not embraced this fully.”

 

Bloody days

 

The United Nations said earlier this week that more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence last year.

The Iraqi government on Thursday rejected the report as superficial and unprofessional. It did not directly reject the figure itself but said it was compiling its own statistics.

At least 15 people were killed on Wednesday when a bomb ripped through a crowded market in Sadr City, a poor Shiite district in eastern Baghdad. On Tuesday, at least 105 people were killed in bombings and a mass shooting in the capital, including 70 at a Baghdad university not far from Sadr City.

The area is a stronghold of the Mehdi Army, loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and blamed for most sectarian killing in Baghdad. Iraqi officials say the Baghdad security plan is aimed at crushing the Mehdi Army and other groups.

Maliki, who owes his position partly to support from Sadr, insisted he would strike armed groups whatever their religion or politics — a key demand of Washington.

He told the newspapers 400 Mehdi Army supporters had been arrested in recent days in several southern, Shiite cities.

With polls showing most Americans oppose the troop buildup, some senators from the Republican and Democratic sides unveiled a non-binding resolution opposing the increase, although Bush has vowed not to be swayed by Congress or public criticism.

Maliki also dismissed complaints about the manner of Saddam’s execution and criticised in his turn Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for saying Maliki was on “borrowed time”: “Certain officials are going through a crisis. Secretary Rice is expressing her own point of view if she thinks that the government is on borrowed time,” the Times quoted him as saying.

“Such statements give moral boosts to the terrorists and push them towards making an extra effort and making them believe that they have defeated the American administration, but I can tell you that they haven’t defeated the Iraqi government.”

In Amman, meanwhile, King Abdullah told Iraqi Vice President Tareq Hashemi at a meeting that Iraqis should work together to restore security and stability, a Royal Court statement said.

“The security situation in Iraq has reached a dangerous point and demands that the Iraqi people set aside their differences and forge ahead on the path of rebuilding security and stability,” the King was quoted as saying.

Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds should join hands to achieve such goals and “avoid Iraq falling prey to chaos and foreign ambitions”, the statement added.

Hashemi, who was in Jordan on his return home from trips to the United States and Britain, also discussed with King Abdullah the new US strategy to contain violence in Iraq. 

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