Iraqi PM announces new plan to unite Shiite and Sunni parties behind efforts to stop violence

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 6:49 am

By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq's prime minister on Monday announced a new plan aimed at uniting the sharply divided Shiite and Sunni parties in his government behind efforts to stop rampant sectarian violence.

Tensions were heightened Monday when gunmen seized 14 employees from computer stores in downtown Baghdad in the second mass kidnapping in as many days. Parliament also extended Iraq's state of emergency for a month.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki emerged with the four-point plan after talks with the top Sunni and Shiite leaders in his government, trying to prevent a crisis over rising tensions between the two Islamic sects.

Under the plan, local commissions will be formed in each district of Baghdad, made up of representatives of each party, to oversee security forces' efforts against violence, al-Maliki said. A central committee comprising all the parties will coordinate with the armed forces, he said.

A media committee also will be formed, and the progress of the plan will be reviewed monthly, al-Maliki said.

``We have taken the decision to end sectarian hatred once and for all,'' al-Maliki told reporters. ``We have vowed before almighty God to stop the bloodshed.''

Al-Maliki announced a 24-point reconciliation plan when he took office in May, which laid down ways to tackle violence on the ground _ including an amnesty for militants who put down their weapons as well as security crackdowns. So far, the plan has done little to stem the bloodshed, with thousands killed in the months since.

Monday's plan, in contrast, was aimed at reassuring both Sunnis and Shiites in his government that their concerns were being addressed in the push against sectarian violence by keeping an eye on security forces at a local level.

The deepening mistrust between the two sides is threatening efforts to stop the bloodshed and the stability of al-Maliki's government.

Sunnis accuse the Shiite-led security forces of turning a blind eye to killing of Sunnis by Shiite militias _ some of which are lined to parties in the government.

Shiite politicians, meanwhile, accused Sunni parties of links to terrorists after a bodyguard of a top Sunni party leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, was arrested by U.S. forces on Friday and accused of plotting al-Qaida bombings.

Tensions were raised by the arrest _ and by two mass kidnappings in as many days in the Iraqi capital, which Sunni politicians blamed on Shiite militias.

At midday Monday, gunmen in military-style uniforms pulled up to computer shops outside the Technical University in central Baghdad, forced 14 employees into their sport utility vehicles and drove off, police said.

Gunmen also kidnapped 24 workers Sunday evening at a frozen food factory in Baghdad, shooting two others who refused to climb into a refrigerated truck with their fellow captives.

Seven bodies were later found in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora and identified as workers from the factory, police said. The fate of the remaining captives was not known. In similar mass kidnappings in the past, militants have sorted their captives by sect to kill members of the opposing faith.

Lawmakers from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political group, said the kidnapped workers were all members of the minority sect and called on the government to take action.

``It is the time that the government takes serious and urgent steps to disband these criminal organizations and to save the people from their harm,'' they said in a statement.

The lawmakers suggested security forces' collusion in the abduction, asking how the kidnappers moved the bodies and their captives from the factory in western Baghdad to Dora ``passing large number of checkpoints and intensified patrols by Iraqi and American forces.''

The joint local committees announced by al-Maliki aim to resolve such disputes by giving every party a chance to observe how security forces are acting on a neighborhood by neighborhood level. A Sunni representative, for example, could raise a complaint if he feels police are not pursuing a Shiite militia after an attack.

``We will spare no efforts to succeed in this great initiative which we agreed on today to stop the violence and killings in Baghdad and in all Iraq,'' al-Dulaimi said at the press conference with the Shiite prime minister. The two of them signed an agreement with other Sunni and Shiite politicians on the plan.

At least 20 other people were killed in attacks around the country, including a noontime bomb blast in Baghdad's downtown Al-Nasir Square that killed four and wounded 13, and mortar barrages against two Sunni neighborhoods that killed two people and wounded dozens.

The U.S command said three U.S. Marines died in Iraq's western Anbar province on Saturday _ two in combat and the third in a vehicle accident. With their deaths, at least 73 American servicemembers died in Iraq in September _ making it the second deadliest month this year, after April when at least 76 died.

One British soldier was killed and another injured in a mortar attack on their headquarters in the southern city of Basra. One shell hit a nearby house, killing two children.

The political divisions were on display in parliament Monday when lawmakers renewed for another month the state of emergency that has been in effect since November 2004. The measure grants the government wide powers to impose curfews and carry out arrests without warrants.

But Sunni lawmakers accused the Shiite-led security forces of abusing the powers. ``The security forces contain corrupted elements who misuse the law,'' Saleem Abdullah, of the Sunni Accordance Front, argued. ``Many security systems are not eligible now to apply such exceptional laws.''

A curfew slapped on Baghdad on Saturday in the wake of the arrest of al-Dulaimi's bodyguard brought a day of calm.

But as soon as it was lifted, violence exploded again. More than 50 bodies _ most bound and many of them showing signs of torture _ were found in Baghdad alone on Sunday, apparent victims of sectarian killings, police said.

The bodies of two more people were found later Monday in eastern Baghdad, police said. They had been shot, their arms and legs bound, and showed signs of torture.

The headless bodies of seven people, found Sunday in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, also were turned in to the Kut morgue, morgue spokesman Hadi al-Itabi said.

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