Iraqis Seek Release of Sunni Legislator
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
BAGHDAD, July 3 -- The Iraqi government is negotiating with one of the most powerful Shiite Muslim militias in an attempt to secure the release of a kidnapped Sunni Arab parliament member, a Sunni legislator said Monday.
Amar Jubouri said that government officials have held discussions with followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads the thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia, with the goal of securing freedom for Tayseer al-Mashhadani. Sadr has been an outspoken opponent of the U.S. presence in Iraq, and his militia members are frequently accused by Sunnis of playing a major role in Iraq's continuing violence.
Mashhadani was kidnapped in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Saturday. Her abduction enraged Sunni legislators, causing them to boycott parliament and threaten to withdraw their cabinet ministers unless she is released.
Sunni legislators did not accuse the Mahdi Army of kidnapping Mashhadani, but suggested they might be aware of what happened.
"In the area where she was kidnapped, the Mahdi Army has virtual control," said Jubouri, who along with Mashhadani is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party. "And we think that the hideout in which she is being kept is not too far from that area."
At the request of Sunni leaders, Iraq's interior minister asked Sadr's organization for help finding Mashhadani and "they promised that they will do their best," said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mashhadani and seven of her bodyguards were kidnapped when her convoy was stopped by gunmen in Baghdad's northeastern Shaab neighborhood. Although kidnappings are a daily occurrence in Iraq, this one has become a divisive and disruptive issue for the legislature.
The Iraqi parliament held its session Monday without the 44 members of the Sunni Accord Front, who boycotted the meeting. Sunni legislators said they planned to withdraw four cabinet ministers starting Tuesday, and called on the United Nations to intervene, unless Mashhadani was released.
A spokesman for Sadr, Abdul Daragi, denied that the Mahdi Army had kidnapped Mashhadani and declined to comment on any discussions with the government.
On Monday, at least two dozen more people were killed in violence. In the bloodiest attack, a car bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed seven people, including two police officers, and wounded 28 other people, according to Lt. Col. Salih Ahmad of the Mosul police.
The parked car detonated along a row of furniture shops as a police patrol passed through the busy commercial street Monday morning. The blast smashed the glass storefronts into shards and rubble.
On Monday, the U.S. military said that an American soldier was killed Sunday evening when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle during a patrol north of Baghdad. In addition, a Marine died Monday while fighting in the embattled western Anbar province, the military announced. The dead servicemen were not named pending notification of their families.
In the rural town of Mahmudiyah, a bomb in a television box exploded in a market, killing four people and wounding 19 others, Mayor Mouyad Fadhil Saif said. The town south of Baghdad was the site of the alleged rape and killing of a young Iraqi woman and the slaying of three family members by American soldiers in March, one of whom was charged on Monday.
A man pushing the box on a cart pretended to be buying vegetables, then slipped away before the bomb detonated, the official said. It was the second consecutive day the market was bombed. The town is in the predominantly Sunni region known as the Triangle of Death for the frequent insurgent attacks there.
In Diyala province, gunmen killed five people, and an attack on an Iraqi National Guard patrol took the lives of four others, according to a Moqdadiyah city spokesman. South of Baghdad, in the holy city of Najaf, gunmen shot up a taxi, killing two women and a 10-year-old girl, said Capt. Hadi Najim of the Najaf police. The motive behind the killings was unknown, police said.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Saad Sarhan, Naseer Nouri and Hassan Shammari contributed to this report.