By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 3, 2005
BAGHDAD, June 2 -- Insurgent violence has claimed the lives of 12,000 Iraqis over the past 18 months, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Thursday, giving the first official count for the largest category of victims of bombings, ambushes and other increasingly deadly attacks.
At least 36 more Iraqi civilians, security force members and officials were killed Thursday in attacks that underscored the ruthlessness and growing randomness of much of the violence. The day's victims included 12 people killed when a suicide attacker drove a vehicle loaded with explosives into a restaurant near the northern city of Kirkuk.
In Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a market area crowded with civilians, killing nine, the Defense Ministry said.
The U.S. military reported that two soldiers were killed Wednesday, by a bomb and by small-arms fire, in the western city of Ramadi.
Thursday's violence demonstrated the ability of insurgents to keep up attacks despite a week-old security operation in Baghdad billed as the most aggressive yet by Iraq's new government, in office for less than two months.
The checkpoints and raids that leaders have dubbed Operation Lightning have brought all roads in and out of the capital under government control, said Jabr, the minister in charge of Iraq's police forces. The actions are meant to expose insurgent hideouts in the city, he told reporters from some foreign news organizations, adding, "Within the next few months, we can deal with all of the killings and assassinations."
Jabr said security forces had detained 700 "terrorists" and killed 28 during the operation. The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that 680 people had been detained but that all but 95 had been released for lack of evidence warranting prosecution.
Interior Ministry statistics showed 12,000 civilians killed by insurgents in the last year and a half, Jabr said. The figure breaks down to an average of more than 20 civilians killed by bombings and other attacks each day. Authorities estimate that more than 10,500 of the victims were Shiite Muslims, based on the locations of the deaths, Jabr said.
There have been 1,663 U.S. military deaths since the United States led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to the Pentagon's official count. Bombings and other insurgent strikes have killed thousands of Iraqi security force members. No official totals have been released for those dead, or for the total number of civilian casualties since the start of the war. The U.S. military says it does not keep a comprehensive tally of people it has killed in combat, although it has released numbers of dead in major operations and has acknowledged civilians it has killed if it has become generally known that those people died during a U.S. firefight or attack.
Jabr said the government figures showed that Shiites had suffered the bulk of insurgent attacks. No Sunni Muslim mosques, for example, had been destroyed, he said.
Iraq's insurgency is led largely by members of the Sunni Arab minority that was toppled from power with Saddam Hussein. Foreign Arab fighters are largely blamed for the suicide bombings that now claim most of the lives.
Jabr, in some of his first extended remarks to reporters since becoming interior minister, said he saw no legitimacy in the cause of the Sunni Arab fighters. "I have not seen any 'resistance,' " Jabr said in response to a question about clemency for so-called resistance fighters who lay down their arms. "There is terror, and all sides have agreed that anyone raising guns and killing Iraqis is a terrorist."
Jabr denied that the police operation in Baghdad was unduly focusing on Sunnis, saying many of the operation's commanders were Sunnis.
He also said the new government was trying to reform the Interior Ministry, including expelling officials and officers found to have tortured detainees or others.
As an opposition member under Hussein, he said, he had lost 10 members of his family to torture. "I would not accept that anyone practice torture against anyone," he said, adding that he would "personally follow up" on all such allegations.
Jabr also denied reports that members of the Badr militia, Shiite fighters trained in exile in Iran, were complicit in the killing of Sunni clerics last month. Investigation showed that no Badr members were involved, he said. The true killers are "terrorists who are killing Shiite clerics and Sunnis to incite strife," he said.
The day's violence included two car bombs near the northern oil city of Kirkuk.
A bomb attack at a roadside restaurant apparently targeted bodyguards of one of Iraq's deputy prime ministers, Rosh Nouri Shaways, said Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin, police chief of Tuz, where the attack occurred. Shaways, an ethnic Kurd, was not present, but five of his guards and seven other people were killed, according to police and defense officials.
Two more people died at Arafah, the site of one of Iraq's first oil wells. A suicide car bomber there detonated his explosives at the entrance to a compound for the national oil company and the U.S. and British consulates, Lt. Col. Adel Zain Abidin said.
In Baqubah, in central Iraq, a suicide car bomber killed Hussein Alwan Tamimi, the deputy chairman of the Diyala provincial council, as he was accompanying his ill sister to the hospital, according to a fellow council member, Khadija Khuda Yakhsh. Four of the official's bodyguards also died. The sister was wounded.
In Mosul, also in the north, attackers blew up two motorcycles rigged with explosives next to a coffee shop frequented by police officers, killing five people, the Associated Press reported.
Gunmen firing randomly from three speeding cars killed nine Iraqis in a crowded market area in Baghdad, a Defense Ministry official told the AP. Interior Ministry officials gave a slightly different account, saying the victims had been waiting at a bus stop.
A bomb caused the deaths of three motorists at Mahmudiyah, 15 miles south of Baghdad, and attackers with guns and a bomb killed a woman in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, police and hospital officials told the AP.
In political developments, negotiators were unable to find a formula by which more Sunni Arabs would help draft the country's constitution.
Writing a new constitution is the main mandate of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's government, which faces a mid-August deadline to finish a draft that can be put before voters.
Sunnis largely boycotted Jan. 30 elections for the National Assembly and as a result are underrepresented on the constitution-writing committee. Sunni blocs came forward for the first time last month to say that they wanted a role.
The drafting of the charter has started while negotiators decide whether political parties, regional votes or other means should be used to pick Sunni delegates.
"National Assembly members are willing to make this succeed," a Sunni negotiator, Salih Mutlak, said after talks Thursday.
"They cannot write the constitution in the absence of the Sunni representation," he added. "If they do, it will be rejected by the people."
Special correspondents Salih Saif Aldin in central Iraq, Marwan Ani in Kirkuk and Bassam Sebti and Khalid Saffar in Baghdad contributed to this report.