Iraqi Leader Vows 'Maximum Force'

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 22, 2006

BAGHDAD, May 21 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged "maximum force against the terrorists" on his first full day on the job Sunday, while bombs targeting predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 30 people. Across the country, more than 40 people were killed in attacks.

The intensified bombings -- the kind of attack most often associated with Sunni Arab insurgents -- appeared intended to detract from Saturday's inauguration of Maliki, a Shiite who leads Iraq's first permanent government since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and the first Iraqi administration since Hussein's with a significant number of Sunni participants.

Maliki held his first cabinet meeting on Sunday. Security, the overwhelming top concern of Iraqis now, took priority. "We will use maximum force against the terrorists and killers who are causing the bloodshed," Maliki told reporters after the cabinet session.

Maliki said he expected to name candidates within two to three days to head the Interior and Defense ministries, which control police and the army. Considered two of the most powerful posts in the cabinet, they have also been the most contentious, and Maliki was unable to fill them before Saturday's parliament session in which he and the other cabinet appointees were approved.

Maliki on Sunday reiterated plans to reorganize the Iraqi security forces with an emphasis on Baghdad, the scene of most of the political and sectarian carnage that has ravaged the country for nearly three years.

Maliki had been expected to take a hard stand against insurgent violence; the open question for his administration now is how tough he will be on Shiite militias, most of which are tied to the Shiite religious parties that make up the political bloc that Maliki now heads. The militias are behind much of Iraq's sectarian violence in Iraq, which U.S. officials say is now the country's most serious problem.

On Sunday, however, bombs apparently placed by Sunni insurgents claimed the greatest toll. In the largely Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-packed vest killed at least 18 people in a restaurant during lunchtime, Col. Selman Abdul Hassan of the Interior Ministry said.

In Shula, another heavily Shiite neighborhood, a member of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia was killed as he tried to defuse a car bomb that had been left at a checkpoint operated jointly by the militia, the police and the Iraqi army, police Capt. Mukhallad al-Ani said. A policeman and a soldier also were killed, Ani said.

"Why don't they want us Shiites to live?" Mankhi Muhammad Zamil, a Mahdi Army fighter wounded in the neck, abdomen and legs said, weeping, on his hospital bed later.

A bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol killed five people in the mixed neighborhood of New Baghdad, Abdul Hassan said.

In Baiji, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, two car bombs targeting a U.S.-Iraqi patrol killed four Iraqi soldiers, all of them members of Iraq's Kurdish minority, Capt. Raad Hamdani said.

"I saw burning pesh merga bodies thrown up in the air," said taxi driver Kareem Khalaf, a witness, using the term for Kurdish militia members.

Iraqi police found the bodies of three men, all of them in civilian clothes, blindfolded, tortured and shot in Baghdad, Abdul Hassan said. In the Shiite city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, the bodies of two women were found near a mosque, he said. Their throats had been slit.

Police in Kirkuk, an oil city north of Baghdad, found the body of an Iraqi contractor who had worked with U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.

Also in Kirkuk, armed men killed two members of Iraq's oil protection forces, Capt. Mahmood Hassan al-Jubouri of the Kirkuk police said.

A bomb in Baqubah, north of Baghdad, killed one person.

Special correspondents Salih Saif Aldin and Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad, Hassan Shammari in Baqubah and other Washington Post staff members in Iraq contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company