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Archive for Saturday, January 7, 2006

Violence may provoke Shiite backlash

January 7, 2006

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— A spree of bloodshed that killed nearly 200 people in two days, including 11 U.S. troops, threatened to provoke a backlash from Shiite militias. Iraq's largest religious group rallied thousands Friday against what it claimed was American backing for some Sunni Arab politicians they say have supported insurgents.

Military officials announced the deaths of six more U.S. troops in the recent violence that has swept Iraq, bringing to 11 the number of Americans killed on the same day.

In Baghdad's Sadr City slum and in its northern Kazimiyah suburb, thousands of angry Shiites rallied to condemn twin suicide attacks Thursday that killed at least 136 people, including the U.S. troops.

The protesters also denounced what they claimed was American backing for Sunni Arab politicians who have supported insurgent groups and are now protesting that last month's elections were tainted by fraud.

Final results from the Dec. 15 elections could be released next week and they are expected to show the religious Shiite United Iraqi Alliance with a strong lead. The Shiites will, however, need to form a coalition government with support from Kurdish and Sunni Arab political groups.

The rallies and threats by Iraq's largest Shiite religious party to react with force if the militant attacks continue have renewed fears that paramilitary militias - now thought to make up part of some elite police units - would take to the streets and carry out reprisals.

Sunni Arabs have complained that often brutal methods used by Interior Ministry forces already have pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war.

In Sadr City, more than 5,000 demonstrators chanted slogans in favor of the Interior Ministry and against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and moderate Sunni Arab leaders. But they reserved most of their ire for hard-liners such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, the outspoken head of the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front.

"We're going to crush Saleh al-Mutlaq with our slippers," they chanted, many armed with automatic weapons. "No, no to Zalmay. No, no to terrorism." It is an insult in Arab culture to touch someone with shoes, which are considered unclean.

Al-Mutlaq denounced what he called "irresponsible statements" and condemned terrorist attacks.

"No government post is worth a single drop of Iraqi blood," he said. "Our decision to join the political process means that we reject terrorism."

The demonstration was organized after Friday prayers by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq - one of two religious parties that makes up the governing Alliance.

SCIRI and Badr Brigade Secretary-General Hadi al-Amiri have blamed hardline Sunni groups of inciting the violence, and said the Defense and Interior ministries - both dominated by Shiites - were being restrained by the U.S-led coalition and had to be unleashed.

He told the pan-Arab Al-Arabyia television that the government told the U.S. "that they should not give any cover to terrorism."

Al-Amiri said a committee formed to deal with the issue had visited Khalilzad. There was no comment from the U.S. Embassy.

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