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Monday, August 9,2010

At least 69 killed in weekend bombings, shootings in Iraq

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

BAGHDAD — Weekend bombings and shootings in Iraq left at least 69 people dead from the north to the south, intensifying fears of a possible surge of violence coinciding with the drawdown of U.S troops.

West of Baghdad, eight people died Sunday in what police suspect was a suicide bombing near a government office in Ramadi, and three more were killed in a car bombing in Fallujah targeting a police patrol.

In the southern city of Basra, health officials raised to 43 the death toll in a triple explosion in a busy marketplace Saturday night, and police confirmed the bloodshed was caused by at least one bomb, which may have triggered the other blasts. It was the second time in a week that a normally quiet southern city had been targeted.

In the northern city of Mosul, the controversial governor of Nineveh province, Atheel Najafi, escaped an assassination attempt when two bombs targeted his motorcade. Najafi is a key supporter of the mostly Sunni Arab bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and has played a leading role in rising Kurdish-Arab tensions by asserting Arab claims to land controlled by Kurds.

An additional 14 people died and scores were injured in more than a dozen other bombings and shootings over the weekend. Most of the incidents were minor; nonetheless, they indicated an increased frequency of attacks that has raised fears the insurgency is gearing up for a comeback as U.S. troops withdraw.

A U.S. soldier was reported killed in the southern province of Babil, a relatively rare event as the Americans hand over security responsibility to Iraqi forces ahead of their drawdown to 50,000 troops and the formal end of the combat mission. The U.S. military did not say how the soldier died.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Army Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said he thought insurgents probably would escalate their attacks as the Aug. 31 deadline for the troop decrease approaches.

"I believe there will be people who attempt to take advantage of the opportunity of the attention being brought upon the Aug. 31 date," he said. "And so, there will be groups who will try to take advantage and show weakness in the government of Iraq and try to create some sort of lack of confidence of the people in the process as you move forward."

Many Iraqis attribute the recent violence to the political gridlock that has failed to produce a new government more than five months after national elections in March, contributing to tensions on the streets. No faction won a clear majority, leaving each seeking coalition partners.

The fortunes of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki received a boost Sunday from the powerful Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who called him a "dear brother and ally" at a joint news conference in Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan region.

Though Barzani stopped short of throwing Kurdish support behind Maliki, it was the first time a leading politician outside Maliki's bloc had endorsed the prime minister's bid to hold on to his job. Maliki returned the favor by pledging to support a cause central to Kurdish concerns: the implementation of a constitutional clause that Kurds hope will lead to the incorporation of the disputed city of Kirkuk into Kurdistan.

Collectively, Kurds won 57 of the 325 seats in parliament, putting them a distant fourth among political coalitions. But their votes could be crucial in determining the outcome of the finely balanced contest to lead the next government. Maliki's efforts have been blocked by Shiite Muslim opposition to his candidacy. The bloc headed by his chief rival, Allawi, won the most seats, 91 compared with 89 for Maliki's group, but Allawi has also failed to secure any support for his bid to be prime minister, leaving the process deadlocked.

Odierno said he was not unduly concerned that there probably would not be a government in place by the time the scheduled drawdown is complete, because the timetable is linked to the abilities of the Iraqi security forces.

"Our numbers are not linked to the formation of the government," he said. "Our numbers are linked to the capacity of the Iraqi security forces being able to sustain stability. And I think they are moving toward that capacity."


(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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