Seven car bombs exploded across the Iraqi capital Baghdad today, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens, as politicians met to try to finalise a new Cabinet.
Police discovered bodies of 20 Iraqis – apparent victims of sectarian killings the US hopes the new government can end.
Elsewhere, in Baghdad and other areas, four roadside bombs, six drive-by shootings and a mortar round killed a total of 15 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. Al-Maliki has 30 days from last Saturday to present his Cabinet to parliament, but a top Shiite official, Ridha Jawad Taqi, said he expected the lineup to be finalised within 15 days.
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 alSaeidi 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 morning rush hour, killing five people, police Lt. Colonel Falah al-Mohammedawi. 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 five civilians, including a 10-year-old boy, al-Mohammedawi said. Together, the two attacks wounded 77 people, he said.
The day saw a string of more car bomb blasts. One went off around noon near a square in Karada, central Baghdad, by a US military convoy, wounding at least 11 civilians, including a young girl, and damaging shops selling car parts, police said.. US forces closed off the area, and it was not immediately known if American casualties had resulted.
About an hour later, two cars exploded 100 yards apart near Iraqi police patrols in the New Baghdad part of the capital, wounding three policemen and three civilians, said police Lt. Ali Abass.
At 2.30pm, a car bomb targeting a police patrol in the Mansur area of Baghdad wounded three policemen and four civilians, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.
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 southwest Baghdad nd one appeared to have been hanged, said police Captain Qassim Hassan.
Three bodies were found in the northern city of Mosul, including that of a university student who hd 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 on Sunday 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.
The US is hoping the new government will unify Iraq’s bitterly divided factions behind a programme 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, demobilisation 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.