Baghdad The Shiite prime minister promised Sunday to reshuffle his Cabinet after calling lawmakers disloyal and blaming Sunni Muslims for raging sectarian violence that claimed at least 159 more lives, including 35 men blown apart while waiting to join Iraq's police force.
Among the unusually high number of dead were 50 bodies found behind a regional electrical company in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and 25 others found scattered throughout the capital. Three U.S. troops were reported killed, as were four British service members.
Also Sunday, the country's Sunni defense minister challenged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's contention that the U.S. military should quickly pull back into bases and let the Iraqi army take control of security countrywide.
Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi rejected calls by al-Maliki for the U.S. military to speed transfer of security operations throughout the country to the Iraqi army, saying his men still were too poorly equipped and trained to do the job.
"We are working hard to create a real army and we ask our government not to try to move too quickly because of the political pressure it feels. Our technical needs are real and that is very important, if we are to be a real force against insecurity," al-Obaidi said.
Al-Maliki wants the Americans confined to bases for him to call on in emergencies, but he boldly predicted his army could crush violence within six months if left alone to do the work.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, last month said it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraq's army was ready to take control of the country with some U.S. backup.
Key lawmakers from al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party said that in the coming Cabinet shake up, which the prime minister promised during a closed-door parliament session Sunday, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post because police and security forces were failing to quell the unbridled sectarian killing that has reached civil war proportions in Baghdad and the center of the country.
Al-Bolani, a Shiite who was chosen in June and a month after al-Maliki's government was formed, is an independent. The United States demanded that the defense and interior posts be held by officials without ties to the Shiite political parties that control militia forces.
Al-Maliki is under pressure both from his people and the United States to curb violence, with Washington leaning on him to disband Shiite militias believed responsible, through their death squads, for much of the killings.
Al-Maliki is dependent on both Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with its Badr Brigade military wing, and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement for his hold on power.
The interior minister controls police and other security forces which already are infiltrated by the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of al-Sadr's political movement.