Iraqi President Says Sunni Insurgents See Iran as Threat

A bomb hidden in a minibus exploded in Baghdad's main wholesale market, killing two Iraqis and wounding five. Two other concealed bombs killed at least four. Police also found four residents handcuffed and shot in the head.
A bomb hidden in a minibus exploded in Baghdad's main wholesale market, killing two Iraqis and wounding five. Two other concealed bombs killed at least four. Police also found four residents handcuffed and shot in the head. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)
By Nelson Hernandez and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

BAGHDAD, May 2 -- Iraq's president appealed for national unity and the renunciation of sectarian violence ahead of a parliament meeting set for Wednesday, saying he had met with Sunni Arab insurgent leaders and observed a "great change" in their war aims.

The insurgents "do not think that the Americans are the main enemy," President Jalal Talabani said in an interview on al-Hurra television Tuesday night. "They feel threatened by what they call the 'Iranian threat.' "

He referred to the insurgents' fear of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, which many Sunnis believe is dominated by the neighboring Shiite theocracy in Iran. Despite their worries about Iran, Talabani said, he found them "reasonable and ready for the peaceful political process," and he appealed to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to participate together in a government.

"If the current government is formed as a national unity government which represents the entire spectrum of the Iraqi people, then I think we will be able to solve the problem of terrorism within a year," Talabani said.

The newly elected prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is ostensibly working on forming such a government. At the most recent meeting of parliament, on April 22, legislators gave Maliki 30 days to choose a cabinet. Although there has been much speculation in Baghdad over who might get what position, Maliki has not made any announcements.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, three concealed bombs killed at least six Iraqis, police Gen. Raad Mohammed said, and police found four other residents of the capital handcuffed and shot in the head.

Outside the capital, a bomb killed a police officer near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and insurgents attempted to assassinate the governor of Anbar province in western Iraq by detonating a bomb near his motorcade in Ramadi. The explosion killed at least two of his bodyguards, but the governor, Mamoun Sami Rasheed, survived.

A U.S. soldier was killed Monday night when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle south of Baghdad, military authorities said in a statement.

The U.S. military also announced that troops killed 10 suspected foreign insurgents in an early morning raid on a safe house about 20 miles north of Baghdad. The soldiers were searching for a leader of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to a statement, when a sleeping guard at the house awakened and drew a pistol. Only one of the insurgents survived the ensuing firefight, the military said.

The Central Criminal Court of Iraq convicted 12 Iraqis of aiding insurgent attacks on government and allied troops. Two of the men were sentenced to life in prison for belonging to al-Qaeda in Iraq; a third received a life sentence for distributing anti-government pamphlets and providing payments to the families of insurgents killed while fighting the Iraqi government.

Two German engineers kidnapped in Iraq were released Tuesday after more than three months in captivity, the German foreign minister said.

Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke appeared unharmed and in good health despite their ordeal, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. They were expected to return to Germany on Wednesday.

The statement did not describe the circumstances of their release. Steinmeier, at a news conference in Santiago, Chile, thanked "the support of our partners in Europe and America" for helping secure their freedom, the Associated Press reported.

"I ask for your understanding that the government can give no further details about this case or about the circumstances of the release," Reinhard Silberberg, the Foreign Ministry's state secretary in charge of a hostage task force, said at a news conference, the Reuters news service reported.

The engineers, both from a company based in Leipzig, were driving to a government-owned detergent plant outside Baiji in northern Iraq on Jan. 24 when they disappeared.

Their captors, a group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid wa-Sunna, released four videos depicting Braeunlich and Nitzschke. In the final video, released April 9, they threatened to kill the men unless all detainees held by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq were released.

Similar demands have been made in several other kidnapping cases, including that of American journalist Jill Carroll, who was set free March 30 after nearly three months in captivity. More than 425 foreigners, and several times that many Iraqis, have been taken hostage since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to U.S. officials who track abductions.

Special correspondents Bassam Sebti in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.


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