Worse violence to come, warns Iraqi leader

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari on Tuesday told his violence-weary nation to brace for even larger attacks as insurgents exact revenge on the government for its “success” in rebuilding the country.

At least seven Iraqis were killed in a new spate of attacks that followed a bloody sequence of days for the Iraqi security forces, as United States Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick met Jaafari in Baghdad in a bid to boost the reconstruction process.

Speaking in Parliament, Jaafari said the recent kidnapping and killing of Egypt’s top envoy to Baghdad by alleged al-Qaeda militants was a direct response to the success of the Brussels donors’ conference for Iraq’s reconstruction held on June 22.

“The killing of the late Ihab al-Sharif was nothing but an expression of the success of the political process,” Jaafari said.

“So we must prepare ourselves that every time we make progress in the process and every time we make big achievements the reaction will be big. This operation [Sharif’s killing] aims to undermine the major political progress we achieved in a short time.”

An Iraqi foreign affairs ministry delegation is being dispatched to Cairo to try to close the rift between the two countries that emerged after the killing of Sharif, who was kidnapped from a Baghdad street on July 2.

President Jalal Talabani met Iraq’s envoy to Cairo, Safia al-Suhail, and asked her to deliver a letter to President Hosni Mubarak and another to Sharif’s family, said a statement from his office.

Egypt has cut its staff at its Baghdad mission and has vehemently rejected accusations by Iraqi officials that Sharif may have compromised his security by contacts he may have had with Sunni Arab militants, saying these statements were attempts by Iraq to absolve itself of responsibility for Sharif’s death.

Sunni Arab hard-liners are blamed for fuelling the raging insurgency more than two years after Saddam Hussein’s fall and for preventing their community from taking part in the political process.

Late on Monday, US forces arrested Sheikh Talal Abdelkarim al-Matar, a senior Sunni Arab tribal leader from the area around Samarra, north of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

More violence, deaths

And in fresh violence, two civilians were killed and 15 wounded in a suicide car-bomb attack targeting a US military patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk, police said. There was no immediate confirmation from the US military.

Another civilian was killed and nine wounded further north in Tal Afar when a package placed in the back of a car blew up, said the US military.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi police colonel was killed while travelling in his car and a police captain was gunned down outside his flat in the capital, security sources said, adding that another police officer and an Iraqi soldier were killed in separate attacks north of the capital.

At least 47 Iraqi security force members or would-be members have been killed in violence since Sunday, including a major attack on a recruitment centre in Baghdad.

A US soldier died of wounds sustained in a roadside bomb attack on his patrol on Monday, the US military said on Tuesday.

Zoellick, meanwhile, met Jaafari to discuss reconstruction aid to the war-torn country ahead of the July 18 and 19 international conference on the issue in Amman.

“This comes shortly after the very successful conference the prime minister attended in Brussels, with over 80 countries and international institutions offering political and economic support for Iraq,” Zoellick told reporters after his talks.

In further violence in Sunni areas, the US military said it killed 14 insurgents in fighting over the past two days in Tal Afar, a restive town in north-western Iraq.
But a local hospital said it received five killed and 18 wounded, all of them civilians.

“We will solve the problem of Tal Afar once and for all within two weeks,” promised Minister of Defence Saadun al-Dulaimi without elaborating whether this means another military operation in the area.

Several US-led military offensives in Sunni Arab strongholds since October have failed to quash the insurgency, which has proven to be resilient.

The fight is still led by US troops, which is why Jaafari reiterated his position again on Tuesday that any timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces is hinged on the readiness of Iraqi forces, which he said still have some way to go in terms of numbers and skill.

“Security forces have to meet a threshold in terms of their capabilities,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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