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10 Iraqi Recruits Killed in Bombing

Times Staff Writer

A car bomb killed at least 10 Iraqi national guard recruits in a town near the Syrian border Wednesday, while U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to push for control of insurgent-held territory with military strikes and political negotiations.

In Fallouja -- the insurgent redoubt west of the capital where U.S. troops haven’t patrolled since April -- talks appeared to have turned a corner, Iraqi government officials and city leaders said.

Ahmad Hardan, a member of the city’s negotiating team, said a tentative agreement had been signed that would place the city under the control of the Iraqi police and national guard.

Heavy weapons would be handed over to the Iraqi government, and a U.S. checkpoint at the eastern entrance to the city would be removed. A committee would be established to consider compensation for citizens injured during frequent U.S. airstrikes, he said.

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Hardan also criticized U.S. airstrikes in Fallouja, which continued Wednesday. The U.S. has said they are aimed at houses used by militants loyal to Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih confirmed a tentative deal, but said it faced potentially violent opposition from local extremists.

Near the city, a soldier with the 13th Corps Support Command was killed Wednesday in an attack on his convoy, the military announced. He was not immediately identified.

In Baghad’s Sadr City, conflicting reports emerged about the status of negotiations to end days of clashes with Shiite Muslim militiamen.

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U.S. forces have struck Sadr City nightly for most of the week, while Iraqi government officials have been trying to negotiate with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.

On Tuesday, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reportedly told the National Council, Iraq’s temporary legislature, that he had reached “the basis of an agreement” with Sadr. Allawi took a harder line Wednesday, saying that the government was adamant that Sadr’s Al Mahdi militia “dismantle any armed presence in the city” and “respect and abide by the rule of law.”

A spokesman for Sadr, meanwhile, said negotiations were progressing, but no agreement had been reached. Ali Sumaysim said talks were in their “final stages” and predicted an agreement would be reached within a few days, according to news reports.

A cease-fire and the disarming of the militia are seen as necessary steps toward the participation by Sadr and his supporters in parliamentary elections planned for January.

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A group comprising the four top Shiite religious leaders -- known as the marjaiyah -- has endorsed elections and pledged to help followers choose between candidates. But Sadr repeatedly has said that he would not take part in any election held under what he called foreign occupation.

The extent of Sadr’s public support remains unclear but he continues to serve as a strong, if polarizing, populist figure -- especially among young disaffected members of Iraq’s Shiite majority.

As negotiations progressed, violence continued across Iraq. In Anah, about 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, a car bomber struck a national guard recruiting center. A hospital official, quoted by Associated Press, said the attack killed 10 and wounded 22.

In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb struck a police patrol, killing one civilian and wounding at least four police officers, a local police official said.

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In Babil province, troops were trying to take control of a bridge over the Euphrates River, U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Slavonic said. The bridge, in the northwest corner of the province, is “believed to be a favorite corridor for insurgents moving into and out of key cities,” Slavonic said.

Thirty suspected insurgents have been arrested and 35,000 pounds of explosives seized so far in the operation, which involves about 3,000 US soldiers, Iraqi national guardsmen and Iraqi police commandos, he said.

The southern Babil region contains the towns of Latifiya, Mahmoudiya and Yousifiya, which have become known as kidnapping zones for travelers along the Baghdad-Najaf highway.

In Washington, a top Iraqi official said Wednesday that failure to provide the nation relief from $125 billion in debt “would be tantamount to condemning Iraq to years of poverty.”

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Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the weight of Iraq’s current debt would deter foreign investment -- seen as crucial to rebuilding the country.

“Iraq does enjoy very significant oil reserves, but if Iraq cannot attract the investment capital needed to repair and upgrade its oil industry, then its reserves stay in the ground,” said Mahdi, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Mahdi’s comments come as Iraq is negotiating to have $42 billion of its $125-billion debt waived. The finance minister has met in Washington with International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials.

Although the United States is pushing for full relief, France and Germany object to forgiving Iraq’s debt without doing the same for many of the world’s poorest countries.

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A recent IMF assessment found that Iraq would need significant debt reduction for economic growth.

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Times staff writer Emma Schwartz in Washington and special correspondents Othman Ghanim in Basra, Saif Rasheed in Baghdad and another in Fallouja contributed to this report. Times wire services were used in compiling it.


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