Six car bombs exploded in Baghdad today, killing at least six people and wounding dozens, as Iraqi politicians met to try to finalise a new Cabinet.
Police discovered the bodies of 20 Iraqis – apparent victims of sectarian killings the US hopes the new government can end.
Elsewhere, in Baghdad and other areas, three roadside bombs, five drive-by shootings and a mortar round killed a total of 12 Iraqis, police said.
Yesterday, at least three US soldiers and 31 Iraqis were killed, and the country’s largest Sunni Arab party raised new allegations of sectarian killings - one of the most urgent issues facing the new leadership.
The violence underlines the challenges prime minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki faces as he begins the tough task of assembling a Cabinet out of Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties.
This morning, political parties met separately in Baghdad to discuss proposed Cabinet ministers and were to meet as a group later in the day, said Kamal al-Saeidi of al-Maliki’s Dawa party.
“They are looking for competent officials who are not sectarian,” al-Saeidi said.
Baghdad’s first car bomb today exploded during the morning rush hour, killing three people and wounding 25, police said. It blew up on a major street in the centre of the city near the Tigris river, close to a complex of government buildings, a hospital and a bus station.
Two hours later, bombs hidden in two cars parked near Mustansiriya University in eastern Baghdad exploded, killing three civilians, including a 10-year-old boy, and wounding 22 people, including five policemen, said police Lt. Bila Ali.
At about noon, a car bomb exploded near a square in Karada, central Baghdad, near a US military convoy, wounding at least 11 civilians, including a young girl, and damaging shops selling car parts, said police Maj. Abbas Mohammed Selman. US forces closed off the area, and it was not immediately known if American casualties had resulted.
At about 1.15pm local time, bombs in two cars parked about 100 yards apart exploded one after another near Iraqi police patrols in the New Baghdad part of the capital, wounding three policemen and three civilians, said police Lt. Ali Abass.
Police in Abu Ghraib, just outside Baghdad, found a small truck containing the bodies of 15 men who had been tortured in captivity, said police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq. Two other corpses were discovered in Dora in south-west Baghdad and one appeared to have been hanged, said police Capt. Qassim Hassan. Three bodies were found in the northern city of Mosul, including that of a university student who had been kidnapped hours earlier, police said.
Sunni Arabs say Shiite militias have infiltrated the Interior Ministry - controlled by the biggest Shiite party – and used death squads to kill Sunnis. Sectarian violence has flared since the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
But the killings have gone both ways.
Police said the bodies of six Shiites were found yesterday in the mainly Sunni district of Azamiyah in Baghdad, their hands and legs bound and their bodies showing signs of torture. Two more – their identities unknown – were found in a mixed district south of Baghdad.
The head of the Azamiyah district council, Sheikh Hassan Sabri Salman, said relatives identified the bodies of 14 Sunnis kidnapped last week. The bodies, he said, were handcuffed with signs of torture. Police did not confirm the deaths.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni faction in parliament and a likely participant in the next Cabinet, warned of “the repercussions of sectarian cleansing.” It urged the new government to stop “the criminal gangs” involved in the killings.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraq’s next government must decommission sectarian militias and integrate them into the national armed forces, warning that the armed groups represent the “infrastructure for civil war”.
Yesterday, US President George Bush called al-Maliki, the Iraqi president and the parliament speaker – all named on Saturday – and urged the quick formation of a coalition government. Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has 30 days to choose a Cabinet, but the political parties are under enormous pressure – from Americans and even Shiite religious leaders – to move quickly without the often intractable haggling over ministries.
The United States is hoping the new government will unify Iraq’s bitterly divided factions behind a program aimed at reining in both the Sunni-led insurgency and the Shiite-Sunni killings that escalated during months without a stable government.
Khalilzad, a key player in tortuous political negotiations since Iraq’s December 15 elections, repeated his call for the quick creation of a Cabinet of “competent” ministers – implying those chosen for their skills and not sectarian or political ties.
He also issued a strong warning Sunday against militias, calling them “a serious challenge to stability in Iraq to building a successful country based on rule of law”.
“There is a need for a decommissioning, demobilization and reintegration plan for these unauthorised military formations,” he told a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the northern city of Irbil.
Control of the Interior Ministry will be a key question. The Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – which currently holds it – appeared to be under pressure to give it up. SCIRI ran the feared Badr Brigade militia during Saddam Hussein’s rule but insists the group has given up their arms, a claim many Sunnis reject.