By Andy Mosher and Naseer Mehdawi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; A11
BAGHDAD, July 24 -- The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party said Monday that Iraqis should band together and take up arms to protect their homes and neighborhoods against widespread lawlessness.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is the leading member of the coalition of Shiite Muslim parties governing Iraq, said the formation of so-called people's committees was one of four essential steps the country must take to curb rampant violence.
As Hakim spoke in an interview at his home on the Tigris River, the head of Iraq's government, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was en route to Washington for talks with President Bush that are expected to focus on security in Iraq.
Hakim's prescription for restoring security was not, he said, intended to supplant efforts by Maliki's government. He voiced strong support for the prime minister's program to bring Iraq's various factions together to reconcile their differences through dialogue and said it was the first of the four steps essential to restoring security. Iraqis, Hakim said, "have to understand each other."
Second, he said, was to "strengthen the government and its agenda for fighting terrorism." Hakim said the third key was to the rebuild the shrine in the northern city of Samarra, which was destroyed Feb. 22 by a bombing that the government has since blamed on the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Almost immediately after the attack, much of Iraq was engulfed in sectarian violence.
"The violence started mounting after this," Hakim said. The government "should rebuild the shrine and protect visitors there . . . from all sects," he said, noting that while particularly revered by Shiites, the Samarra shrine is also holy to Sunni Muslims.
Hakim's contention that neighborhoods should form their own defense committees -- his fourth step -- is shared by many Iraqis who feel they cannot rely on their country's security forces or foreign troops to protect them. Others, however, have expressed fears that the people's committees would amount to nothing more than de facto militias in a country where militia attacks have caused much of the bloodshed.
Militias associated with Shiite parties -- including the armed wing of Hakim's Supreme Council, known as the Badr Organization -- have been widely accused of mass killings and kidnappings of Sunni Arabs. Iraqi police forces, which answer to the Shiite-led Interior Ministry and often work closely with the party militias, also have been blamed.
But Hakim said the violence in Iraq is being perpetrated by people loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party government and by Islamic radicals -- Iraqi and foreign. Both groups tend to be overwhelmingly Sunni Arab, but Hakim insisted that Sunnis and Shiites alike have been preyed upon.
"When we stand against insurgents and terrorists, Sunnis think we are standing against them," Hakim said. "We don't have any troubles with any of the peoples of Iraq."
Formation of people's committees should benefit all Iraqis, he said, because they would be created to defend neighborhoods, not beliefs. "In Shiite neighborhoods, they would be protected by young Shiites, because they live there. And the same thing for Sunni neighborhoods: They will be protected by young Sunnis. And if it is a mixed neighborhood," Hakim said with a rare smile, "it would be protected by Sunni and Shiite people. It is something normal."
[The Associated Press reported that the United States and Iraq are moving thousands of troops into Baghdad. A senior Defense Department official said U.S. troops will move from elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait. Also, U.S. military police companies involving 500 to 1,000 troops are being shifted to Baghdad, as well as a cavalry squadron and a battalion of field artillery troops. At least two Iraqi military brigades, or about 7,000 troops, will be brought into Baghdad from around the country.]
The current level of violence showed few signs that it would soon decrease. Two soldiers attached to the 1st Brigade of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division were killed in separate incidents Monday in Anbar province, the military reported.
In Baghdad, seven mortar rounds fell on the Shiite neighborhood of Shula, killing a 6-year-old girl and wounding 12 people, police said. An hour later, in the city center, attackers ambushed six police cars on Haifa Street, detonating a bomb that killed three officers and injured two.
In the northern city of Tikrit, gunmen assassinated a prominent tribal leader known over decades for his connections with Hussein's government and with U.S. occupation authorities. Police said Sheik Mahmoud al-Nida, the head of the albu-Nasser tribe, was killed at about 8 p.m.
Hussein, meanwhile, remained hospitalized as his trial on charges of crimes against humanity resumed after a two-week recess. With the former dictator being force-fed after a 17-day hunger strike and his defense team boycotting the proceedings, the only participants in the defense's final arguments were his half brother and co-defendant, Barzan Ibrahim, and a court-appointed lawyer.
Hussein, Ibrahim and six others are charged with the slayings of more than 140 residents of the town of Dujail, where an attempt was made on Hussein's life in 1982. After a sometimes rambling final speech, Ibrahim told Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman that he was finished and, now, "even my health is up to you."
"Why?" the judge asked. "Isn't it in God's hands?"
"God is correct," Ibrahim replied, "but releasing me depends on you."
Special correspondent Muhanned Saif Aldin in Tikrit contributed to this report.