Iraqi Prime Minister Acts to Rein In Militias

Relatives of police recruits killed Sunday in an ambush near Baqubah wait for the bodies in Baghdad's Sadr City.
Relatives of police recruits killed Sunday in an ambush near Baqubah wait for the bodies in Baghdad's Sadr City. (By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 24, 2006; 6:50 AM

BAGHDAD, Oct. 24 -- Iraq has ordered its security forces to crack down on unlawful acts by armed factions, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday in a rare public rebuke to the Shiite militias allied with his government.

Although the statement was bolder than usual for Maliki, it fell short of directing that the illegal militias be disbanded, a move that American officials are increasingly urging as sectarian bloodletting and other violence soar.

Shiite militias have been accused of targeting Iraq's Sunni minority in a growing number of brazen killings. The largest of the militias belong to the two Shiite religious parties leading Maliki's government.

Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier in Baghdad was reported missing late Monday, and residents said American forces had sealed the central Karrada district and were conducting door-to-door searches, according to the Associated Press.

A military official in Washington told the AP that the missing service member was a translator and that the initial report was that he may have been abducted. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been cleared for release.

In his statement Monday, the prime minister acknowledged that unspecified "illegal groups with weapons" were carrying out operations that are undermining security in the country. Iraq's security forces had been directed "to confront the attempts to break the law, regardless of their source," he said.

Maliki singled out turmoil in Maysan province, where the Mahdi Army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric, was accused Monday of renewing attacks on police officers in the provincial capital, Amarah. The police belong to a rival militia, the Badr Organization, formerly known as the Badr Brigade.

The accusation came after Mahdi Army fighters shot four policemen to death, leading Badr militiamen to behead the teenage brother of a Mahdi Army commander, the Associated Press reported.

Iraqi army troops allegedly failed to intervene. About 500 additional troops have been deployed to Amarah since a burst of fighting last week between the two militias killed at least 25 people. In his statement, Maliki appealed to local residents to resist being pulled into the fighting.

Since midsummer, there have been record numbers of attacks on Iraqi forces and record numbers of deaths among Iraqi civilians, with more than 2,600 civilians killed last month in Baghdad alone.

Dozens of slaying victims are collected each day from the capital's streets. On Monday, 52 bodies were found across Baghdad; three of the dead had been beheaded, police said.

Other violence included a bombing in the capital that killed three Iraqis.

Attacks on American troops are also at one of their highest points of the war, with 89 killed already this month. The figure is the highest monthly toll for American forces here since October 2005, when 96 troops were killed.

The U.S. military on Monday and early Tuesday announced five of the most recent fatalities. Three Marines died of injuries sustained from unspecified "enemy action" in Anbar province, according to emailed military statements. One of the Marines died Saturday; no time frame was given for the other two deaths. Officials also reported the death of a soldier killed in a bombing in Baghdad, and said a member of the international force training Iraqi policemen was killed Sunday in a roadside bombing in eastern Baghdad. None of the dead were identified, pending notification of their families.

In London, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih called for U.S.-led forces to stay in Iraq until their Iraqi counterparts are capable of securing the country.

"I do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run," Salih told reporters after meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. About 7,000 British troops are assigned to southern Iraq.

Salih said Iraqi forces would be in control of at least seven of Iraqi's 18 provinces by the end of the year, adding, "We understand that this cannot be an open-ended commitment by the international community."

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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