BAGHDAD, Iraq — A suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a Baghdad fish market Tuesday and two Shiite families were found slain north of the capital as violence across Iraq claimed at least 52 lives.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of nine soldiers and two Marines in what has been a deadly period for American forces in Iraq. The announcement brought to at least 15 the number of service members killed in fighting since Saturday.
Four of the soldiers were killed in Baghdad on Monday in separate small-arms fire attacks, the military said. Another four were killed the same day in a roadside bomb attack on their patrol northwest of Baghdad. The ninth died Sunday when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb west of the capital.
Sunni politicians expressed worries over a new government plan to stop sectarian violence. The plan, announced a day earlier by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, won some praise in parliament Tuesday. But Shiite and Sunni leaders delayed potentially contentious talks to work out its details.
The four-point plan calls for creating neighborhood Shiite-Sunni committees to monitor efforts against sectarian violence. The aim is to overcome the deep mistrust between Sunnis and Shiites.
Many Sunnis remain skeptical that Shiite leaders will allow security forces to crack down more strongly on Shiite militias blamed for killing Sunnis — including some linked to parties in the government.
“I haven’t seen any real desire in the other side. There are militias supported by the government,” said Sunni lawmaker Khalaf al-Alayan.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that under the plan, parties that have militias have agreed to take “responsibility for what their groups or people under them are doing, ... committing themselves to ending the sectarian violence.”
Still, “there are forces that are not under their control,” Khalilzad said in an interview with National Public Radio. “But if they implement what they’ve agreed to, there should be a significant decrease in the level of violence in Baghdad.”
Another lawmaker, Izzat Shabandar, from the secular Iraqi Bloc, cautioned “we have to be realistic.”
“Those who signed this blessed agreement have to confess, at least to themselves, they are the basis of the problem and they are part of it,” he said.
Al-Maliki’s government has been under intense pressure to put an end to Shiite-Sunni violence that has killed thousands of people this year and raised fears of civil war. This week, gunmen carried out two mass kidnappings in as many days, abducting 38 people from workplaces in Baghdad — attacks that Sunnis said were carried out by Shiite militias.
Some 400 Sunnis marched Tuesday at the site of one of the kidnappings — a frozen meat factory in Baghdad’s Amil district — demanding the government put a stop to the violence. Some carried banners reading “get police troops out of our area” — reflecting the widespread suspicion that Shiite-led security forces have been infiltrated by militias.
Gunmen took 24 workers from the factory on Sunday and the bodies of seven were later found dumped in the capital. The fate of the others is not known.
The Interior Ministry said the police commander for the Amil district had been discharged and arrested for investigation in the kidnapping — a possible response to Sunni complaints that Shiite-led security forces allow militias to operate freely.
Earlier Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated a belt rigged with explosives in an outdoor fish market in the primarily Sunni area of Sadiyah in southwestern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 19, police said.
Hours later, four mortars hit homes in another Sunni district, killing seven people and wounding 25.
The mixed city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, saw a string of deadly attacks. Gunmen opened fire on a Shiite family trying to flee the city, killing five of them. Later, the bodies of a woman and two men lay on the street near the family truck, billowing smoke.
In addition, eight people were killed in another shooting in Baqouba, and two others died in a roadside bombing.
Attacks elsewhere in Baghdad and around the country killed 17 other people.
Ten more bodies also were found, the apparent victims of sectarian slayings. They included seven bodies in an area north of Baqouba, identified as a father, three sons and three other relatives from a Shiite family.
In the mainly Shiite south, the bodies of two women — one beheaded, the other burned — were found in Kut, while a former army officer was discovered dead and handcuffed in Amarah.
Joint security committees
Talks on creating joint security committees to end the violence must tackle a range of issues — including how many members will be on the panels, the proportion of Shiites and Sunnis and which areas of Baghdad they will cover.
Khalilzad said the committees would include Shiite and Sunni political, religious and tribal leaders as well as military figures.
The intent is that each committee will oversee the effort against violence in its district — with a central body overseeing them and working with security forces. But it still must be decided what powers the committees will have and how decisions will be reached. Every month, the parties will meet to review progress.
Sunnis hope the committees will give them a voice to ensure that security forces go after Shiite militias. But it remains unclear whether the new system will lead to tougher action. Shiite leaders insist the main problem is attacks by Sunni insurgents.
Al-Alayan, the Sunni lawmaker, said the two sides made progress in talks over the weekend and agreed on banning weapons and militias. But when a representative of Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric who holds a place in the government and heads a powerful militia, joined talks Monday, “everything was overturned” and the ban was put aside.
Still, al-Sadr’s party signed onto the new security plan.
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