Maliki criticized as violence flares
Violence flared in the Iraqi capital Friday, adding to sectarian tensions as raids and shootings erupted in the streets and bombs exploded in crowded marketplaces.
Throughout the day, Iraqi and U.S. troops conducted raids and traded gunfire with insurgents, including a daylong raid in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood, a Sunni Muslim area.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has attempted to reassert his authority in recent weeks, confronting U.S. leaders, demanding more control over national security and weighing plans to reconfigure his Cabinet. In a meeting with President Bush on Thursday, Maliki had promised that Iraqi security forces would be able to protect citizens without U.S. military support by June.
But Iraqi leaders and citizens were skeptical Friday that the prime minister could fight the rising tide of civil war.
Abdelaziz Hakim, leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite Muslim party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, attempted to reach out to opponents Friday, speaking at a mosque in neighboring Jordan and appealing to Sunnis for national unity.
The week before, Hakim had warned Sunnis that they would suffer most if Iraq’s civil war worsened. This time, he appealed for an end to violence. “All of us, Sunnis and Shiites, should stand in the way of this sickness that is manifesting [itself in] the body of our nation,” he said. Hakim is scheduled to meet with Bush in Washington on Monday.
On Friday, however, those gathering at mosques across Iraq, Sunni and Shiite, said they saw Maliki’s meeting with Bush as largely unproductive, and yet another sign their country was falling apart.
“The wicked American administration is the basic reason for these seditions happening among our peoples,” Sheik Abdul Zahra Swaidi told worshipers at Hikma Mosque in Sadr City, the capital’s largest Shiite neighborhood, where car bombs killed more than 150 people last week. Iraqi officials must choose between loyalty to the U.S. government and to the Iraqi people, he added. If they choose the U.S., he said, they can expect more rebellion.
Sheik Abdullah Hassan, a Sunni preacher in Fallouja, told worshipers the Iraqi government had become dysfunctional, its leaders divided by ethnic and religious ties and under the sway of foreign powers.
“We have reached a point where we are required to tell the government that you have failed to provide services and security to Iraqis,” he said. " ... What I see is that the politicians are helping the occupier and putting their hands between the hands of foreigners to create sectarian sedition.”
Iraq’s Interior Ministry reported Friday that 1,862 civilians had been killed in violence in November. The figure is based on deaths registered at police stations and morgues. United Nations figures put the civilian death toll higher.
On Friday, at least 14 more Iraqi civilians were killed across the country in sectarian violence, including a woman who was used as a human shield by insurgents in Baghdad and two people killed by a suicide bomber in the northern city of Kirkuk.
The U.S. military announced Friday that a soldier had been killed Thursday, bringing the total of U.S. troops killed since the conflict began more than three years ago to 2,885, according to www.icasualties.org. The military also reported that a detainee at Baghdad’s Camp Cropper died of natural causes late Thursday after being admitted to the hospital Nov. 2 for treatment of a preexisting condition.
Also in the capital Friday, the manager of a professional Baghdad soccer team was reported kidnapped. Hadib Majhoul, 52, a Sunni father of two from a wealthy family who managed the Talaba soccer club, was abducted Thursday, according to Malaib newspaper, published by Iraq’s National Olympic Committee.
In the fighting in and around the Fadhil neighborhood, an Iraqi soldier was killed and eight soldiers and six civilians injured. An Interior Ministry source said 28 insurgents had been arrested during the raid; the Ministry of Defense reported 43 people detained.
Police said seven people were killed and 33 wounded in separate Baghdad explosions early Friday -- a car bomb in the Ghazil pet market and a roadside bomb in Wathba Square, two Friday gathering places in central Baghdad. Four people were killed and three injured by shelling in the mainly Sunni area of Rashdiya in northern Baghdad.
Shooting continued late Friday in alleys near Wathba Square, where a charred metal telephone cable box marked the site of the morning’s explosion.
“Watch out -- there is a sniper,” a boy cried as he darted across the dusty road leading to Ghazil and Fadhil.
A nearby grocer said the only reason to travel the road these days would be “if you want to die.”
A beggar in a wheelchair pointed to the site of the roadside bomb, littered with ashes and glass from car windows.
“It seems that Fadhil is burning up,” he said.
Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Suhail Ahmad and Zeena Hamid in Baghdad and special correspondents in Fallouja, Kirkuk and Mosul contributed to this report.