A day after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki unveiled a sweeping reconciliation plan to negotiate peace with Sunni Arab insurgent groups, rebel violence killed at least three dozen people around Iraq.
Bomb attacks in Baghdad, near Baqubah and in Hillah, the heartland of Maliki’s leading Islamic Dawa Party, reinforced deep skepticism among top Shiite lawmakers about the prime minister’s effort.
A suicide bomber rode a bicycle into a village market near Baqubah, the same area where U.S. forces this month tracked down and killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The assailant detonated a bomb vest, killing 20 Iraqis, many of them children.
“He’s just a baby! He’s just a baby!” cried a father in a hospital hallway as his young son, a victim of the blast, bled on a bare hospital mattress. The floor was slick with blood.
U.S. forces stationed nearby treated at least 30 injured people after local authorities complained that the Iraqi Health Ministry had failed to supply Baqubah’s hospital with X-ray machines and blood reserves. Iraqi doctors in Baqubah, a mostly Sunni Arab area, blamed followers of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, who dominate the ministry.
The attacks could create further obstacles for Maliki’s controversial plan. In interviews Monday, high-ranking leaders of the prime minister’s Shiite bloc said they supported the plan in theory, but doubted it would allay rebel violence.
The insurgency is so disparate and many of its purported leaders so unreliable that identifying real rebel negotiation partners is virtually impossible, Shiite leaders said.
Maliki’s plan calls for Sunni Muslim insurgent groups to identify themselves in order to take part in negotiations with the government.
“First they must identify themselves through mediators,” said Sheik Humam Hamoodi, a Shiite lawmaker who chaired the Iraqi constitutional drafting committee. “Then they can present their demands and enter the political process.”
So far no insurgent group has done so, Shiite leaders said.
Hadi Amri, a parliament member and leader of the Badr Brigade, one of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary groups, said it was unlikely the anonymous guerrillas would come forward.
“We’re knocking on all the doors -- but who are they? Who are the insurgents?” Amri asked, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “When we raised guns against Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party 20 years ago, our leadership was clear. I was talking with my real name. The Baathists killed four of my brothers. But they’re not using their names.”
Shiite politicians said they viewed the reconciliation proposal as a way to appease U.S. officials who have pressed hard for talks with Sunni hard-liners. Maliki’s plan proposes amnesty for some insurgents, which the Shiite politicians consider a way to force guerrilla leaders to honor a pledge some of them made to lay down their arms under the right conditions.
“In theory everybody would like to reconcile with the Sunni resistance. But that’s why it was so easy to pass in parliament -- because no one believes it can happen,” said Haider Abadi, a lawmaker and senior member of Maliki’s party.
In the meantime, Shiite leaders said, government forces should continue to strike hard against Sunni fighters who refuse to lay down their arms.
Maliki’s plan to reconcile with Sunni insurgents was deliberately vague, the product of months of negotiations between U.S. and Iraqi officials. Among the most puzzling aspects of the plan is the premier’s intention to distinguish between insurgents “not proved to be involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity” and those who renounce violence and agree to submit to Iraqi law. Even some of Maliki’s closest allies acknowledged that making such distinctions among armed groups was nearly impossible in Iraq’s chaotic and shifting conflict.
“There aren’t any criteria to tell which groups are active in the insurgency and which are inactive,” said Abbas Bayati, a senior member of Maliki’s alliance. Some Sunni politicians in the government have ties to the insurgency, he said. He accused them of attempting to use violence to press their agenda for a U.S. troop withdrawal and the release of Sunni detainees.
A sensitive issue for U.S. officials are distinctions being made between insurgents who attack the American military and those who attack Iraqi security forces.
“We agree that whoever raised a weapon and killed or terrorized Iraqi civilians and security forces is a terrorist,” said Kamal Saadi, a Dawa Party member. “Concerning the ones that bore arms against American troops, the [Shiite alliance] completely rejects this, but we will not consider them as terrorists and we will consider them” for amnesty.
But Abdul Kareem Enizi, a prominent Shiite lawmaker and Iraq’s former minister of state for national security, said that such distinctions rarely exist among insurgent groups in Iraq, where the same bombs often kill Iraqis and American troops alike.
“How can they know what kind of groups are this or that?” Enizi asked. “A lot of those who used violence were dragged into attacks against the sons of Iraq, which has made the issue cloudy. There is no boundary between those who killed the Iraqis or killed others.”
In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, residents openly opposed the prime minister’s plan.
“Reconciliation with whom? Killers who slaughtered our youth, displaced our families and devastated our country?” said Abdul Kareem Hadi Shaban, a 53-year-old professor. “Those who did that will have the sword as an answer. No reconciliation will be effective with them.”
Mahmood Yousif Tabooq, 43, said reconciliation with Shiites’ enemies would “represent a blow to democracy.”
“There have been some concessions to Sunni movements involved in the political process, and they have used their military wings to bend the arm of the Iraqi people,” said Tabooq, a hotel owner. “Reconciliation will not solve the problems of the country -- we just need force, discipline and law.”
Shiites cited the continued violence Monday as evidence that past efforts to involve more Sunnis in the government had failed to bring about peace.
In the Baghdad attack, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated an explosive-laden vest, killing two police commandos. Gunmen also fired on an Iraqi army patrol, killing two soldiers. A car bomb near a separate army patrol killed five soldiers. And a group of gunmen kidnapped 10 students.
In Kirkuk, insurgents killed a university professor, and guerrillas kidnapped a man near a bus depot. Kirkuk police also discovered a beheaded body.
The Hillah bombing, at a market, killed six Iraqis and injured 56 others. And according to the Associated Press, a U.S. Marine died during military operations in Ramadi, an insurgent hotbed in Al Anbar province.
Times staff writers Louise Roug, Saif Hameed and Raheem Salman in Baghdad contributed to this report, as did special correspondents Ali Windawi in Kirkuk and Saad Fakhrildeen in Najaf and special correspondents in Baghdad.