Iraqi Leader Calls for Peace

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By Nelson Hernandez and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 11, 2006

BAGHDAD, May 10 -- Iraq's president made an impassioned plea Wednesday for peace and swift political action, saying the country had been shaken to its foundations by acts of sectarian violence that killed at least 1,091 Iraqis in Baghdad alone last month.

"We feel shocked, sad and angry when we receive almost daily reports of finding unidentified bodies and others who were killed on the basis of their identity," President Jalal Talabani said in a written statement. Such acts, he said, are "contradictory to the divine and human laws."

Talabani said the casualty figure he cited -- the April report from the Baghdad morgue -- was only the beginning. "If we add to that the number of bodies which were not found, or similar crimes in other provinces, then the total number calls for deep concern and rage," he said.

Talabani distinguished between high-profile deaths caused by suicide bombings and car bombings -- a hallmark of the predominantly Sunni Arab insurgency -- and the killings that take place every night in Baghdad, where a victim vanishes, only to reappear in an out-of-the-way alley, shot dead.

"Behind every so-called unidentified body there is traumatized mother, an orphan child, a devastated father and an unfortunate wife," Talabani said. "Each drop of blood spilt is watering the fields of evil and is growing the seeds of division."

There has been an explosion of such killings since Feb. 22, when unknown attackers destroyed a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad. Baghdad morgue workers, as well as Iraqi and foreign officials, reported that more than 1,000 people were killed in sectarian violence in the days that followed the Samarra bombing.

The pace of killing has slackened only slightly since the Samarra crisis. An Associated Press report said that at least 3,550 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of 2006. Most of the victims seem to be Sunni Arabs, and Sunni politicians say the Iraqi police force, an arm of the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, is to blame. Many Sunni districts in Baghdad have set up local watch groups to keep the police out of their neighborhoods.

The crimes, and the reaction to them, have created an atmosphere of "mutual doubt," Talabani said. The president demanded that political leaders reach a rapid agreement over the forming of the government and "strongly, frankly and clearly condemn those ugly crimes, whoever their perpetrators were."

In a separate interview aired late Wednesday on Baghdad TV, the station operated by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group, Talabani said leaders of unspecified insurgent groups had told him they had been in negotiations with Americans in Baghdad and in Amman, capital of neighboring Jordan.

Talabani, who has referred previously to his own talks with insurgent groups, said the Sunni armed factions told him that "they are about to reach results and asked for my support, and I said that I am ready."

Talabani said the framework of the talks included scheduling the withdrawal of American troops and ending attacks against U.S. forces. He gave no details. U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.

The killing went on in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq on Wednesday, with bombings and shootings responsible for the deaths of at least 18 people, according to police and news service reports.

In the deadliest incident, nine Iraqis were killed and four were wounded near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when armed men attacked a bus and then blew it up as police were retrieving the bodies. Police Lt. Mohammed Hakman said the victims were employees at Diyala State Company for Electric Industries and were shot as they were heading to work.

An American military commander in northern Iraq also reported that four Iraqis detained at a U.S. camp near the northern city of Sulaymaniyah had escaped.

Col. David R. Gray, the commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, said that the detainees escaped from the Fort Suse facility and that U.S. and Iraqi forces, as well as Kurdish militiamen, were looking for them.

Special correspondents Bassam Sebti, Naseer Nouri and Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.


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