Two dozen die in Baghdad violence as legislators wrangle over federalism bill

Monday, September 11th 2006, 2:37 pm
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ An explosion outside an army recruiting center in Baghdad killed at least 16 Iraqis on Monday as lawmakers struggled to break a deadlock over legislation Sunni Arabs fear will split the country into three pieces.

In all, violence around the country killed at least 29 Iraqis, 24 of them in the capital. Five bodies also turned up on city streets and in the Tigris River running through the capital.

A U.S. soldier was killed by small-arms fire after his patrol came under attack Sunday north of Baghdad, the U.S. military command said.

In Monday's deadliest attack, a minibus loaded with explosives blew up near the northern gate of the al-Muthana recruiting center in central Baghdad, killing at least 16 Iraqis and wounding seven, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ibrahim al-Obeidi said.

A car bombing in eastern Baghdad killed four other people and wounded three.

Gunmen killed at least nine people in separate attacks overnight and Monday morning in northern Iraq and in the capital, authorities said. They included four oil company employees ambushed on a bus and killed by gunmen near Beiji, site of Iraq biggest refinery.

Iraq's oil infrastructure is frequently targeted by insurgents who blow up pipelines and attack oil workers. The country has struggled to resume oil production to prewar levels of about 2.5 million to 3 million barrels a day.

Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, said the government will increase security.

``We already have a military presence there and we're going to reinforce it,'' al-Shahristani told reporters in Vienna at a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

In eastern Baghdad, authorities found the bodies of two men dumped in the street in the al-Ubaidi district. Both bodies had their hands and feet tied, were in civilian clothes and had been shot in the head and chest, said police Maj. Mahir Hamad Mosa.

In Kut, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, police said they found the bodies of three men floating in the Tigris. All three were blindfolded, bound and bore signs of torture.

Meanwhile, the leader of the largest Sunni Arab group in parliament, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said political parties opposed to a federalism bill were trying to work together to prevent it from being implemented without changes.

One of the amendments Sunnis are seeking would prevent the weakening of Iraq's central government in favor of powerful autonomous regions. Both the north and south are rich in oil, and Sunnis fear they will end up squeezed into Baghdad and Iraq's western provinces, which have no natural resources.

``We are trying to calm the situation and we had our first meeting with the Kurds today to find a common ground,'' al-Dulaimi, who heads the Iraqi Accordance Front, told The Associated Press.

The federalism bill submitted to parliament last week by the largest Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, calls for a three-part federation. It would create a separate autonomous state in the predominantly Shiite south much like the zone run by Kurds in the north.

Sunni Arabs fear this will split Iraq apart and fuel sectarian bloodshed.

Al-Dulaimi's bloc, along with a smaller Sunni Arab group, two Shiite groupings, and a secular party forced parliament on Sunday to postpone debate on the bill for the second time.

``We do believe that we have to reach an agreement with the other blocs which support our opinion in order to avoid any division among big blocs,'' he said. ``That is why we call for dialogue and national reconciliation. By dialogue we can settle disputes, but with bloodshed we will increase problems.''

He said parliament should first meet a key Sunni Arab demand to set up a committee to amend the constitution, approved by referendum last October, before discussing any other legislation relating to Iraq's new charter.

Objections from Sunni Arabs and an apparent split among Shiites led leaders to delay the debate until Sept. 19. A previous attempt to discuss the bill Thursday set off acrimonious squabbling that led parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani to recess that session.

``The legal and the provinces committees will meet together to draft a joint bill that will be submitted for a first reading on Sept. 19,'' al-Mashhadani said after a parliament session Monday.

He said there was a preliminary agreement that the legislation, even if adopted, would not lead automatically to a federal state.

``If we pass a resolution ... it doesn't mean the actual implementation of federalism,'' he said.

Although the idea of federalism is enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution, and there is already an autonomous Kurdish region in the north, special legislation and a referendum would be needed to turn Iraq into a full federation.