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Archive for Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Attacks kill dozens; clergy shift support

August 2, 2006

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— Bombings and shootings killed more than 70 people in Iraq on Tuesday in a surge of bloodshed as U.S. forces prepare to take back Baghdad's streets from gunmen. The dead included 20 Iraqi troops, a U.S. soldier and a British soldier.

The U.S. military is moving at least 3,700 soldiers from Mosul to Baghdad and is gearing up for a new security operation to wrest control of the capital from Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, kidnap gangs, rogue police and freelance gunmen.

The deadliest attack Tuesday occurred when a roadside bomb devastated a bus packed with Iraqi soldiers near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. All 24 people aboard were killed, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said. All but four of the dead were Iraqi soldiers, police said.

Clergy shifting

Many of the Shiite Muslim religious leaders who strongly backed the formation of the Iraqi government now are condemning it, warning that the country could descend into full revolt.

Their statements, observers said, reflect their effort to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular government, one they once encouraged voters to risk their lives to support. In the process, they hope to win back support from the populace, the majority of which is Shiite.

U.S. deaths

As of Tuesday, at least 2,579 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. One of three Marines killed Saturday was identified Tuesday as Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus, 28, a nephew of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

The signs of defection are troublesome for U.S. and Iraqi officials, and another possible sign that the American strategy is threatened. The Shiite leaders have pushed for formation of the government more aggressively than any other Iraqi group, and their frustrations come just as American and Iraqi officials had encouraged Sunni Muslims to participate in the nascent political process.

"The government formed after the fall of the regime hasn't been able to do anything, just make many promises. And people are fed up with the promises," said Sheik Bashir al Najafi, one of the top four Shiite leaders and one of several who suggested there could be a revolt.

Many Shiites have refrained from engaging in all-out war because of repeated pleas from the Shiite leaders' council, the Marjaiyyah, to show restraint. The recent statements from religious leaders suggest that stance could be changing.

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