Iraqi PM calls on Iraqis to embrace reconciliation as violence kills at least 11 people

Saturday, September 16th 2006, 9:21 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged Iraqis Saturday to cast aside their sectarian, ethnic and political differences and embrace his national reconciliation plan.

The appeal came as Iraqi security forces announced they will dig trenches around Baghdad in an attempt to prevent insurgents and explosive-laden cars from getting into the sprawling city of 6 million.

The U.S. military confirmed Saturday that there was a plan in progress to create a ``security belt'' around the capital.

``There is a plan in progress for a security belt around Baghdad that includes trenches and other obstacles for channeling exit from and entry to the city through checkpoints controlled by Iraqi forces. This is a cooperative effort between the Iraqi government and the Coalition,'' said Lt Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for Multinational Forces in Iraq.

The Baghdad anti-terror trenches are intended to curb attacks such as three car bombings Saturday morning that killed at least eight people and wounded 25 more. Three more people were killed in other explosions, and police also found six bodies strewn around the city.

``No one should be part of the national reconciliation plan unless they recognize others, accept them as partners and totally reject any sectarian, ethnic or political differences,'' al-Maliki told a gathering of Iraqi non-governmental organizations

Addressing groups that represent children orphaned by terrorism and those disabled by war, al-Maliki said it was the responsibility of all Iraqis to join the effort

``National reconciliation is a correct way of thinking and carries a high feeling of responsibility,'' al-Maliki said. ``To succeed in this today, we have to embrace the culture of dialogue and reconciliation.''

Al-Maliki unveiled a 24-point reconciliation plan last month that he hopes will bridge the religious, ethnic and political divisions feeding Iraq's violence.

The plan includes an offer of amnesty to members of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency not involved in terrorist activities, and calls for disarming primarily Shiite sectarian militias.

But no major Sunni Arab insurgent group has publicly agreed to join the plan, and many Shiite militias are controlled by legislators themselves. Car bombings, mortar attacks and shootings have killed hundreds of Iraqis the past few weeks.

Al-Maliki said that once the plan managed to create an ``atmosphere of reconciliation and dialogue,'' his government would take decisions based on the views expressed both by NGO's and tribal leaders _ who last month agreed to back his effort.

``These decisions will be historic and they should be shouldered by all the groups participating in the political process, because participation means sharing responsibilities. There are no rights without a price. Those who do not take the responsibly of defending the state and its laws will would no longer be our partners in the political process.''

In Saturday's violence, a suicide car bomb targeting Amerivan and Iraqi vehicles in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora instead killed three Iraqis who were shopping in a market and wounded 19 others, said police 1st. Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq.

In another incident, a car bomb went off near Iraqi National Guard troops who were conducting a patrol in downtown Baghdad near the Tigris River, killing two soldiers and wounding another, according to police officer Maytham Abdul Razzaq.

A car bomb killed three police officers and wounded five people _ including three civilians _ when it detonated next to a passing patrol southeast Baghdad's Zafaraniya, Police Capt. Ali Mahdi said.

Two civilians were also shot to death in separate incidents. The first was a cell phone store owner killed in the Dora neighborhood, and the second was a garbage collector who was attacked in the mostly Sunni Yarmouk district in western Baghdad. And a civilian was killed and four wounded after a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in a clothes market in downtown Baghdad, police 1st. Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.

Baghdad saw more than 160 people slain from Wednesday to Friday _ either killed in bombings or tortured and shot before being dumped on city streets, likely victims of the sectarian reprisals that have escalated in recent months.

Inspired by Islamic history, the plan for a ditch around Baghdad is the newest twist in what has so far been a losing battle to prevent suicide car bombs and other weapons from being smuggled into the capital.

``Trenches will be dug around Baghdad in the coming weeks,'' the Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, told The Associated Press on Friday. ``They will surround Baghdad.''

He provided no details of what distance the trenches would cover, nor how deep or wide they would be. It is about 60 miles around the edge of the city.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush also mentioned a new plan to safeguard Baghdad _ but he spoke of using an earthen mound rather than a ditch.

Khalaf said the trench plan would restrict vehicle and pedestrian traffic to just 28 entry points, all with guarded checkpoints. Similar checkpoints are set up now on some central routes through Baghdad, including the highway to the airport, but they need hundreds of soldiers to man them.

He said the plan was inspired by the Battle of Khandaq _ Arabic for Battle of the Trench _ in 627, during which Prophet Muhammad protected the city of Medina from an army by digging trenches.

Vehicle bombs have killed at least 960 Iraqis and wounded 2,763 in Baghdad this year, according to an AP count. That's just over a fifth of the city's deaths from war-related violence and nearly a half of its wounded.

Most of the car bombs are thought to be assembled in areas just south of Baghdad, in the so-called Triangle of Death.

There have been past operations seeking to prevent bombs from being smuggled into the capital.

The first such plan _ Operation Lightning _ was launched with much fanfare in May 2005. More than 40,000 Iraqi police and soldiers, backed by U.S. troops and air support. But they failed to cut down on bombings.

A year later, as killings in Baghdad surged, a joint U.S.-Iraqi security offensive known as Operation Together Forward was launched June 15.

It too has made little headway, with the city's death toll surpassing 1,500 in July and triggering fears among U.S. commanders that civil war could break out.