Iraq’s death toll has reached at least 1,319 already in November, well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which was the deadliest month in Iraq since The Associated Press began tracking the figure in April 2005.
At least 112 people were killed nationwide on Sunday, following a week of appallingly high daily death tolls: 134, 90, 119, 106, 49, 52 and 53.
In the past eight days, at least 714 Iraqis have fallen victim to the country’s sectarian bloodbath.
The actual totals are likely considerably higher because many deaths are not reported. Victims in those cases are quickly buried according to Muslim custom and never reach morgues or hospitals to be counted.
Under the cloud of that burgeoning death toll, Syria’s foreign minister called Sunday for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces to help end the violence, in a groundbreaking diplomatic mission to Iraq that comes amid increasing calls for the U.S. to seek cooperation from Syria and Iran.
Deadly violence in Hillah
The sectarian violence continued Sunday with the deadliest attack in the southern Shiite city of Hillah, where a suicide bomber in a minivan lured day laborers to his vehicle with promises of a job then blew it up, killing 22 people, police said. Police later announced the arrest of three insurgents who had planned the attack — two Egyptians and an Iraqi — and said the suspects claimed the bomber was Syrian.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, in his first visit since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, promised to cooperate with Iraqi authorities struggling to control chaos that threatens the country with civil war. But Moallem called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“We believe that that a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq will help in reducing violence and preserving security,” Moallem said.
Attacks by suspected insurgents in other areas of Iraq killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 75. Gunmen also kidnapped one of Iraq’s deputy health ministers from his home in northern Baghdad, officials said.
Both the Iraqi government and its U.S. sponsors have repeatedly accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq. Syria denies the charge, saying it is impossible to control the long desert border.
Moallem’s visit, his first since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, is a major step toward restoring diplomatic relations severed more than a quarter-century ago. He was to meet with the Iraqi leadership, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Deputy health minister abducted
Also Sunday, The deputy health minister, Ammar al-Saffar, a Shiite, was snatched from his home near the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, said Hakem al-Zamily a fellow deputy health minister. The kidnapping came nearly a week after dozens of suspected Shiite militia gunmen kidnapped scores of people from a Ministry of Higher Education office in central Baghdad.
The Bush administration is under growing pressure to ask adversaries such as Iran and Syria for help in trying to avoid the collapse of an increasingly violent Iraq.
Negotiating with the two countries would entail a major policy shift for President Bush, whose reluctance to talk to them — and U.S. adversaries in general — has come under increasing criticism.
Kissinger: Victory no longer possible
and joined calls for the U.S. government to seek help from Iraq’s regional neighbors— including Iran.
“If you mean, by ‘military victory,’ an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible,” he said on the BBC’s Sunday AM program.
Moallem denied that his visit was related to any U.S. overture.
“I did not come to Iraq to please anyone. I came here to please the people of Iraq and the people of Syria,” he said.
After the Hillah bombing, crying and screaming Shiite women searched the scene for their sons. Some blamed Sunni Arab insurgents for the attack. Others said Hillah’s police do not provide poor people such as day laborers with adequate security.
In Hillah, ‘survivors ran in all directions’
“The ground was covered with the remains of people and blood, and survivors ran in all directions,” said Muhsin Hadi Alwan, 33, one of the wounded day laborers. “How will I feed the six members of my family when I return home without work and without money?”
Mohammed Abbas Kadhim, 30, said he was thrown several yards by the explosion.
“I couldn’t see or hear for a few minutes as I was lying on the ground. People were racing everywhere looking for their missing sons, brothers, friends — all of them shouting ‘God is great.”’
The blast shattered windows and ripped holes in concrete stalls and storefronts nearby. Some business owners were using brooms to sweep away debris from the blast. Others stood nearby, surveying the damage as if in a daze.
As medics carried stretchers into the nearby hospital, residents lined up outside offering to donate blood. Dr. Mohammed Dhiya, the hospital’s manager, said all the city’s doctors were called to work.
Hillah has been the site of many deadly bomb attacks, including one in February 2005 in which a suicide car bomber killed 125 national guard and police recruits.