A bomb planted near a tea stand killed eight men waiting for jobs in a largely Shiite area of Baghdad today and six other people died in scattered violence across the country.
Meanwhile A Shiite politician tapped as a possible prime minister predicted a new government would be in place by mid-March.
The morning attack on the impoverished labourers in the capital’s eastern New Baghdad area appeared aimed at further inflaming sectarian tensions in this war-ravaged country, where Shiites trade accusations with Sunni Arabs of reprisal killings and kidnappings.
It occurred hours before Saddam Hussein’s trial resumed on accusations of involvement in the 1982 killings of more than 140 people.
Iraq’s most powerful politicians met to thrash out the formation of the country’s next government, which the US wants the dominant Shiites and Kurds to welcome Sunni Arabs into, hoping this would take the steam out of the country’s raging violence.
Iraq’s insurgency draws most of its support from the Sunni community.
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, candidate of the biggest Shiite party to be Iraq’s next prime minister, said he expected the government to begin operating in mid-March, following the final certification of the Dec. 15 parliamentary election results and the legislature’s first sitting.
To do so, the Shiites, who won 128 of the 275 parliament seats, want to build a coalition with the major Kurdish alliance, a deal that seems set with President Jalal Talabani saying his Kurdish ticket nominated him to retain the post.
The Shiite bloc is expected to support Talabani’s reappointment in return for control over major Cabinet posts.
Shiite leaders, who were long suppressed under Saddam Hussein, want the crucial interior and defence ministries, which would give them control of Iraq’s police and military forces.
But Sunni Arabs, who accuse Shiite-led police forces and militias of killing Sunni clerics and ordinary citizens, oppose Shiites taking control of both ministries.
Prominent Sunni Arab leader Tariq al-Hashimi entered the fray today, threatening to call a popular “uprising” if Interior Minister Bayan Jabr isn’t dismissed and Iraqi soldiers aren’t deployed to Baghdad neighbourhoods to protect Sunnis from rogue commando forces.
Al-Hashimi also demanded the freeing of all detainees in custody and the release of a U.S. probe’s findings into claims that Sunni Arab prisoners were mistreated in November in an Interior Ministry-run jail in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighbourhood.
“The government and the occupation forces have a chance to respond to these demands, but they should not take a long time,” said al-Hashimi, leader of one of two Sunni political parties in the Iraqi Accordance Front.
“If our demands are not heard, we will call on all political parties to stage a mass civilian uprising across the country until security is restored.”
Scores of Sunni Arab males have been rounded up by armed men wearing police uniforms in Baghdad. Many have been found shot dead in different parts of the city, including the Rustamiyah sewerage plant south of Baghdad, which has become known as a dumping ground for victims of the capital’s raging violence. Another five bodies were found there today.
Police said at least eight men were killed and more than 50 wounded in the New Baghdad bombing. Eyewitnesses said a man placed a bag full of explosives that detonated near a cart selling tea to men as they waited at a crowded intersection for a day’s work.
In other violence, roadside bomb blasts in Amiriyah, west of Baghdad, and Baqouba, to the north, killed two civilians. A mortar barrage killed two Iraqi soldiers in the north-western city of Tal Afar, officials said.
Gunmen shot dead a man outside his southern Baghdad home, while a gunfight between insurgents and police in central Baghdad killed one civilian.