Negroponte, Iraqis talk security
The U.S. national intelligence director, John D. Negroponte, met Friday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki during an unannounced visit, the second stop this week by a top Bush administration official amid signs of strain between the two governments.
The visit by Negroponte, who previously served as U.S. ambassador here, came as dozens more died in the continuing violence in Iraq.
Authorities in Baghdad, where sectarian killing has been widespread, on Friday reported having discovered 27 bodies, many of them with several gunshot wounds and signs of torture.
The latest violence included a mortar attack on a home in Baghdad that killed three members of a family and the fatal shooting of a Shiite Muslim cleric’s bodyguard in the south-central city of Najaf.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said troops had killed 13 suspected guerrillas and seized a cache of explosives during a pair of raids in Mahmoudiya, a center of Sunni Muslim insurgent activity south of the capital.
One of the dead was wearing an explosives vest when he was killed, and several appeared to be non-Iraqi fighters, the military said without elaborating.
The military also said three Marines had died in combat a day earlier in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. The Marines, who were not identified, were members of Regimental Combat Team 7.
Negroponte was meeting with top officials of the Shiite-led government on security matters at a time when Maliki has publicly sought to gain for his forces a wider role in addressing the sectarian violence that has shaken the country in recent months.
Maliki’s spokesman said the sessions were part of a new drive to coordinate security efforts after the prime minister’s videoconference with President Bush on Oct. 28. Maliki urged Bush to give Iraqi forces a freer hand in dealing with the militias behind much of the killing.
“Negroponte has confirmed the support of the American administration to the security issue in Iraq and the government, and its plan to have more say in Iraqi security issues,” said Ali Dabbagh, the prime minister’s spokesman.
Negroponte’s arrival came four days after national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley met with Iraqi leaders.
On Tuesday, U.S. troops in Baghdad withdrew from a cordon of roadblocks around the vast Sadr City slum and Karada neighborhood soon after Maliki, under pressure from Shiite militants and other residents, ordered them removed.
Maliki had previously declared that he was “not America’s man in Iraq.” U.S. officials have not gotten him to agree to timelines for progress on curbing armed groups and making other changes.
The Bush administration wants the prime minister to act more forcefully against Shiite militias, such as the group tied to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, whose movement is part of Maliki’s coalition.
But Maliki and his Shiite allies are reluctant, saying Sunni-led insurgent groups are the real threat to the country’s security.
Iraqi leaders appeared to be bracing for possible turmoil Sunday, when the verdict is due in the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven codefendants for the 1982 killings and torture of scores of Shiites from Dujayl, north of Baghdad.
The defense minister, Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim Mifarji, on Friday canceled leaves for members of the military in case the outcome, which could include death sentences, sparks celebration or protest.
“These are careful measures for the expected events that might happen from reading the verdict,” spokesman Mohammed Askari said.
In other developments, United Nations officials said Friday that about 3,000 Iraqis were fleeing to Syria and Jordan every day.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the exodus was overwhelming the agency, which had assumed that Iraqis who fled at the time of the 2003 invasion would have been able to return home by now.
The UNHCR estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis had left the country, though it notes that many did so long before the war. Another 1.6 million have fled to other areas inside Iraq, the agency said.
Times staff writer Said Rasheed in Baghdad contributed to this report.