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Iraqi Shiites vent anger on premier

Mourners lob rocks at Maliki's convoy after his reconciliation plea.

November 27, 2006|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Angry Shiite Muslims pelted Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's motorcade with stones Sunday after the Iraqi leader pleaded for national reconciliation at a memorial held in Sadr City for victims of a large-scale bombing attack.

Maliki, who is a Shiite, left the scene after he tried without success to calm a crowd of mourners calling for revenge against Sunni Arabs. His pleas were met with shouts of "coward!" and "collaborator!"

Thursday's series of suicide and car bombings killed at least 215 people in the Shiite neighborhood on the eastern edge of Baghdad. After the attack, the international airport was closed and a general curfew was imposed on the capital, measures that remained in place Sunday.

The civil war in Iraq will be at the top of the agenda when U.S. and regional leaders meet this week in a round of high-level diplomacy. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani heads to Iran today for talks, and President Bush will meet with Maliki and Jordanian King Abdullah II this week in Jordan.

Bush is expected to discuss how neighboring nations can help prevent further deterioration of the situation in Iraq.

"We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq," Abdullah told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "We can possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands."

Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites are high in Lebanon after last week's slaying in Beirut of a Cabinet member. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian officials were seeking Sunday to enforce a cease-fire.

An upcoming report from the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission is expected to recommend that the Bush administration reach out to countries in the region, including Iran and Syria, for a solution in Iraq.

Talabani, whose trip was delayed for two days because the airport was closed, will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Syrian President Bashar Assad was invited but does not plan to attend the talks. Iraq and Syria restored full diplomatic relations last week.

"Iraq is passing through a crisis so we need the neighboring countries to support us," Ali Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, told Al Arabiya TV on Sunday. Iraq's government encourages talks between the U.S. and Iran, he added.

"We think the detente of the relations between them will benefit the Iraqis," he said. "Sometimes we pay the tax of the strained relations between them."

The heckling of Maliki by fellow Shiites came after threats last week by Shiite lawmakers linked to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr to abandon the government should Maliki go ahead with the Bush meeting.

"There are hawks and doves inside the [Sadr] bloc," said Sadeq Musawi, an independent political analyst in Baghdad. "The hawks are calling for [a withdrawal of U.S. troops]. And the doves are using this to make more and more political demands from the government."

Sunni lawmakers also threatened to walk out of the government recently after officials issued an arrest warrant for Iraq's top Sunni cleric.

On Sunday, before his visit to Sadr City, Maliki appealed for peace as he stood alongside Talabani as well as the speaker of parliament and a vice president, both Sunnis.

But while Iraq's leaders appealed for unity, state television repeatedly aired a diatribe by the Shiite deputy health minister, accusing residents of various Sunni neighborhoods of fomenting violence -- a departure from the station's more placid rhetoric.

Along with the political discord, mortar attacks continued Sunday between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, and some shells hit an American military base as well.

The U.S. military reported today that three service members died Sunday during fighting in the capital. Earlier, the U.S. military said a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Diyala province and two Marines died in the western province of Al Anbar on Saturday.

The rounds that hit the U.S. base were fired from the southern edge of Sadr City. Others were directed at the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Amariya, a U.S. military spokesman said.

"I can confirm there was a strike, but I'm not going to give out any assessment," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad.

Iraqi authorities said two mortar rounds struck the base, but gave no details.

In the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Karada, two mortar rounds killed four civilians and injured five, including the imam of the Zuwiya mosque. The wounded were taken to Ibn Nafis Hospital, where armed men later tried to break in. Police repelled them.

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