Blasts in Baghdad Kill 35 Iraqis, 2 GIs

By Nelson Hernandez and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 15, 2006

BAGHDAD, May 14 -- At least nine bombs exploded in the Iraqi capital Sunday, killing 35 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers as the country's politicians wrangled over the rules and composition of their new government.

The string of attacks in Baghdad, the bloodiest in weeks, was accompanied by reports of violence in other areas: Two British soldiers were killed Saturday night when their armored vehicle struck a roadside bomb near Basra in southern Iraq, British military authorities said, and attackers bombed five Shiite Muslim shrines in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

The attacks came as the Iraqi parliament met for the third time since choosing Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the leading Shiite coalition of parties, as its prime minister-designate. Maliki was given until May 22 to choose his cabinet. Though some politicians have said recently that an announcement was imminent, others say there were still considerable obstacles to assembling a government that would satisfy the country's Shiite, Kurd, Sunni Arab and secular parties.

U.S. officials and military leaders have held out hope that the formation of a government uniting these groups would calm the situation in the country, quelling the kind of violence that erupted Sunday.

In the deadliest attack, two suicide bombers in cars loaded with explosives blew themselves up among people gathered in a parking lot just outside the airport, killing 14 Iraqis, U.S. military authorities said in a statement.

The parking lot is near a well-known statue of Abbas bin Firnas, a 9th-century Arab philosopher who dreamed that men would someday fly. After the explosion, the area was littered with bodies and burned-out and damaged cars.

The lot was guarded until recently by Global Security, a private company. U.S. troops have also reduced their presence in the area.

"I was expecting this, because Global Security moved the checkpoint away and left this parking lot uncontrolled," said Thair Abdulqadir, an airport employee.

In another attack near the airport, five Iraqis were killed at a checkpoint along the Baghdad airport road, police said.

Two suicide bombers were traveling in a car loaded with explosives when one of them stepped out of the car to distract the soldiers and the other detonated the bomb, said Col. Sami Hassan, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Bombs killed 16 other people in Baghdad, according to police and news reports. The two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Sunday evening in eastern Baghdad, military authorities said in a statement.

Outside the capital, a roadside bomb hit a convoy and killed three bodyguards of Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, police Brig. Gen. Abbas Ameen said. Zebari was not in the convoy, Ameen said.

Fifteen other Iraqis were reported killed in bombings and shootings outside Baghdad, according to the Reuters news service.

In restive Diyala province, attackers also bombed five small Shiite shrines near Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of the capital, police said. The attacks began late Saturday when a bomb exploded at the Imam Abdullah shrine in Wajihiya, a town northeast of Baqubah. Four other shrines in the area were demolished by bombs Sunday morning. Nobody died in the attacks, but the shrines were reduced to rubble, police said.

Attackers have aggressively targeted Shiite mosques in Baqubah in recent weeks, causing many to fear that tensions between Shiites and Sunni Arabs in the area will boil over. The bombing of another shrine in February, the Golden Mosque in Samarra, nearly pitched the country into civil war.

"What these groups are trying to do in bombing shrines is to provoke a sectarian conflict that would lead to a civil war," said Fuad al-Amiri, the preacher at a Shiite mosque in Baqubah. "They don't want Iraq to stabilize."

But the event that is supposed to stabilize Iraq -- the formation of a government that unites the squabbling factions -- remains just out of reach, politicians said after a parliament meeting where members debated their bylaws.

Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni leader, said in an interview on al-Jazeera television that to meet the deadline, Maliki might announce his cabinet choices by the end of the week while keeping vacant the positions most difficult to fill, in the Defense and Interior ministries, until he can resolve thorny political questions associated with them.

Sunni leaders have insisted on filling the Defense Ministry themselves, and would like to see the Interior Ministry go to a nonsectarian candidate.

"For us, this is a matter of life and death," Hashimi said. "The security of Iraq depends on those two ministries."

Bahaa al-Araji, a politician with the leading Shiite coalition, assailed the Sunni coalition's leaders on Sunday, saying they had two days to relax their demands or the Shiites would unilaterally form the government, according to the Associated Press.

A secular politician, Ayad Jamal al-Din, said the announcement of a new government "may take a week" and warned that it might not be the panacea for Iraq's problems.

"I think that things will not calm down easily even after the formation of a government, but in general there is progress in the political situation," he said. "However, the political situation has became very sectarian. The democracy has become a democracy of sects."

Special correspondents Bassam Sebti, Omar Fekeiki, Saad al-Izzi and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company