Gunmen attacked the disabled car of Iraq’s top Sunni politician Thursday, killing one bodyguard and wounding five after the Sunni leader sped away in another vehicle. Thirty-eight other people died in a new round of violence.
After the attack, Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, refused to assign blame and called for restraint to blunt the spiraling sectarian violence that has taken about 500 lives since Feb. 22, when a Shiite shrine was bombed in Samarra.
“I don’t accuse anyone. ... I consider it accidental, and I call on my brothers for self-restraint and to contain what happened because Iraq is bigger than Adnan and his guards,” al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.
In an attempt to avert attacks during the Muslim day of prayer, the government announced a one-day ban on private vehicles in Baghdad and its outskirts, effective when the overnight curfew ends Friday morning. The police and army were instructed to seal off the capital and seize any private vehicles on the roads between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The country’s political crisis deepened, meanwhile, as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari vowed to fight a move to deny him a second term. The turmoil has complicated talks to form a broad-based government, which U.S. officials consider essential to taming the mainly Sunni insurgency so U.S. troops can begin pulling out by summer.
The premier and his hard-line Shiite backers vowed to fight the coalition of moderate Sunnis, Kurds and secular politicians — al-Dulaimi among them — seeking to strip al-Jaafari of power in the next government.
Al-Jaafari adviser Haider al-Ibadi lashed out at the prime minister’s opponents, accusing them of trying to delay formation of a new government.
“There are some elements who have personal differences with al-Jaafari,” al-Ibadi told the AP. “The Alliance is still sticking to its candidate.”
Fiery cleric backs al-Jaafari
The move against al-Jaafari also drew sharp opposition from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
“We will not abandon al-Jaafari,” said a close aide to the anti-American al-Sadr, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the dispute.
Al-Jaafari won the nomination by a single vote, mostly due to al-Sadr’s backing in a Feb. 12 ballot among Shiite lawmakers. He defeated Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the candidate of Shiite Alliance leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim — who often is at odds with al-Sadr.
Reda Jawad Taqi, an al-Hakim aide, said representatives of the largest parliamentary bloc would meet al-Jaafari opponents to “learn what is behind their position. We will not reject their demand (to meet). Everything is negotiable.”
Al-Sadr’s militiamen were believed behind many attacks against Sunni mosques last week, and there are some in the Shiite camp who are alarmed at the prospect of a prime minister in debt to the young radical.
Many Sunnis blame al-Jaafari for failing to rein in commandos of the Shiite-led Interior Ministry. And Kurds accuse al-Jaafari of dragging his heels on resolving their claims around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The Shiites won 130 of Parliament’s 275 seats in December elections, giving them the largest bloc of lawmakers and the first chance to form a government — but not enough to govern without partners.
Not long after gunmen hit Adnan al-Dulaimi’s convoy Thursday, other attackers shot up cars carrying security men assigned to his fellow Sunni tribesman, Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi. One bodyguard was killed and five were wounded. The attacks on both Sunni heavyweights — who are not related — occurred in Ghazaliyah, a dangerous west Baghdad neighborhood.
The military reported a U.S. soldier was killed during combat in insurgency-ridden Anbar province Wednesday, raising to 2,296 the number of U.S. servicemembers who have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
8 die in market attack
Elsewhere Thursday, an explosion tore through a vegetable market in a largely Shiite Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least eight people and wounding 14.
In the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, a minibus exploded, killing at least five people and wounding 10. And in the western Amariyah neighborhood, a roadside bomb detonated near an Interior Ministry patrol, killing one and wounding three.
Police found the bodies of five men shot in and around Baghdad.
Gunmen also attacked a joint police-army checkpoint about 20 miles north of Samarra, killing six soldiers and four policemen. The attackers set fire to the bodies before fleeing. Four more policemen were killed by gunmen in the northern city of Mosul.
Near Kirkuk, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of two police trainees, who had been blindfolded, handcuffed and dumped along the road.
Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samaraie, head of the government’s Sunni Endowment, the caretaker of Sunni mosques and religious shrines, took stock of recent sectarian violence at a news conference Thursday, reporting that 45 Sunni preachers and mosque employees had been killed.
He said 37 Sunni mosques were destroyed and 86 damaged by grenade, rocket or gun fire. Six others are in the hands of Shiite militiamen, he said. U.S. military officials put the figures much lower.
Another Sunni cleric was gunned down Thursday as he left a mosque after prayers in Basra, in the southern Shiite heartland.