By Nelson Hernandez and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 4, 2006
BAGHDAD, May 3 -- A wave of killings in the capital and a suicide bomber's attack on a group of Iraqi police recruits on Wednesday punctuated a day in which Iraq's newly formed parliament put off debating difficult issues and discussed its bylaws.
The violence began at 8:30 a.m. when a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt blew himself up among a crowd of Iraqis at a police recruiting station in the city of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad. The explosion killed at least 17 people, according to Khalaf al-Dulaimi, a doctor at the local hospital.
The U.S. military said in a statement that at least seven people were killed in the attack and that 13 people were wounded. The statement added that U.S. and Iraqi troops cleared the streets and cordoned off the area around the police station, where most of the city government's offices are located, reopening the area within an hour.
Col. Larry D. Nicholson, the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 5, a unit of Marines deployed in the area, said in the statement that recruiting continued after the bombing, signifying "the local rejection of intimidation and terrorism."
Insurgents have repeatedly targeted crowds of army and police recruits, particularly in Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province, a vast desert area west of Baghdad that is considered the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgent movement. A major attack in January killed more than 50 recruits in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. Recruiting has continued despite the attacks, with mixed success -- roughly 5,000 Anbar residents have enlisted in the Iraqi army in recent months, but some have protested serving outside their home towns.
Iraqi police also discovered 37 bodies in several Baghdad neighborhoods, all of them handcuffed, blindfolded and shot dead, said Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Waeli, an Interior Ministry official. Al-Arabiya television broadcast a video clip that showed the bodies wrapped in blankets in the city morgue.
Such killings occur almost daily in Baghdad, but rarely in such high numbers. Sunni Arabs blame the killings on Shiite militias and the country's Shiite-led police force, but several of those found dead Wednesday came from predominantly Shiite neighborhoods in the capital.
Also Wednesday, a U.S. soldier based near Baghdad died in a noncombat incident, military authorities said in a statement.
The attacks came as parliament met for the first time since April 22, when legislators gave Nouri al-Maliki, their choice for prime minister, 30 days to choose cabinet ministers to run the government.
Maliki did not announce a decision on his cabinet at the meeting Wednesday morning, and only 154 of 275 legislators showed up. The session was dedicated largely to procedural tasks, such as forming a committee to write the bylaws for this full-term parliament and setting up another committee to take care of members' housing and security.
The assembly put off dealing with divisive issues.
A Kurdish lawmaker asked the assembly to issue a statement condemning recent violations of Iraqi territory, particularly in the north, where Turkey and Iran have allegedly shelled camps belonging to the Kurdish Workers' Party, an insurgent group fighting for an independent Kurdish homeland.
Other legislators appeared reluctant to approve a statement and instead called for a hearing to explain the situation.
The parliament also discussed the formation of a committee to revise Iraq's constitution, which would decide whether to split the country into federal regions composed of its different ethnic and sectarian factions. The issue was shelved until Maliki finishes forming his government.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the parliament speaker, urged his fellow lawmakers to exert themselves to work together, because "there is no alternative for us but to succeed."
His address was interrupted by Mithal Alousi, a secular lawmaker, who reminded Mashhadani that most of the parliament members had already spent 30 years fighting against Saddam Hussein and had no need for such a lecture.
"This is unacceptable," he said. "We are not in kindergarten."
Special correspondent Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.