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Sunni-on-Sunni violence snags U.S. strategy

Iraqis load the bodies of police recruits onto police vehicle after suicide bombing in Falluja
Iraqis load the bodies of police recruits onto a police vehicle Wednesday after a suicide bombing in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Mohanned Faisal / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sunni insurgents boldly attacked fellow Sunni Arabs on Wednesday, the latest in a growing campaign against those who cooperate with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

A suicide bomber cloaked in explosives killed two policemen and 13 police recruits gathered in Fallujah, a city surrounded by U.S. Marine checkpoints. In a nearby town, three Sunni soldiers from the U.S.-trained Iraqi army were found slain.

The suicide attack outside the main police station in Fallujah occurred a day after the governor of Anbar province, which includes Fallujah, narrowly escaped assassination. A suicide bomber exploded his vehicle near Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani’s convoy in Ramadi, killing 10 people. The governor was not injured, U.S. officials said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been urging Sunni Arabs to join the police and army, which has been dominated by the rival Shiite Muslim sect and ethnic Kurds. Sunni community leaders say the presence of Shiite and Kurdish troops in their areas raises sectarian tensions and undermines confidence in the government.

Inclusion strategy under threat
Training and recruiting Sunni Arab police and soldiers is part of a broader strategy by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to establish a political role for selected Sunni insurgent groups. The goal is to split more moderate elements from Saddam Hussein’s fanatic loyalists and extremists such as al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Last weekend, President Jalal Talabani said officials from his office met with insurgent representatives and he was hopeful about a deal.

U.S. officials also acknowledge contacts with Sunnis who have ties to the insurgency. But American diplomats have not confirmed a report this week in a leading Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, that said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had met seven times since Jan. 16 with representatives of 10 major insurgent groups.

“Negotiations with armed groups will reduce violence” and “alienate the terrorists,” Talabani’s security adviser, Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samarraie, said Wednesday on Iraqi state television. “Consequently, no one will be able to say ‘we are resistance groups,’ only that they are foreigners, kidnappers and groups that carry out kidnappings, robberies and killings.”

Violence shows little sign of abating. Instead, it has shifted from mainly attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces to carefully targeted murders of Iraqis.

New recruits murdered
On Sunday, nearly 1,000 soldiers graduated from army basic training — the first all-Sunni class. Two days later, four of them were slain in Ramadi. Three more of the new soldiers were found dead Wednesday in Khaldiyah, just north of Fallujah, police said.

Reprisal killings between Sunni and Shiite militias continue unabated.

The bodies of 20 Iraqi men were found in several areas of the capital, apparent victims of death squads that kidnap civilians of rival Muslim sects, torture them, and dump their bodies. They included 14 bodies discovered near the gates of an amusement park in a mostly Shiite area of northeast Baghdad, police said.

In Wasit province southeast of Baghdad, masked gunmen broke into the home of a Shiite family, killing the husband, two of his sons and his sister, police said. The wife was spared and told police her husband disregarded warnings, presumably from Sunnis, to leave the area.

U.S. officials have been pressing Iraq’s elected officials to finish work on a new Cabinet, the final step in establishing a unity government. Washington officials say such a government offers the best hope of improving security so U.S. troops can begin to go home.

PM-designate: New Cabinet by next week
Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has said he intends to finish appointing his Cabinet by late next week. To do that, he must balance the demands of the country’s religiously and ethnically based parties for key posts, including the ministries of oil, defense and interior.

Ensuring all groups a stake in the new government may require the Shiites, who hold 130 of the 275 seats, to give Sunni Arabs and Kurds more posts than they would expect based on their showing in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Shiite lawmaker Haider al-Ibadi said he opposes such a compromise. “There are some groups insisting on having more than they deserve,” he said. “This must not be done, and we are resisting any attempt to do it.”

In a speech to parliament, the speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, urged the lawmakers to be “the healers” of Iraq’s deep sectarian divisions.

Parliament delays review of amendments
But parliament delayed on Wednesday a discussion of amendments to Iraq’s new constitution. A constitutional review was promised to Sunni leaders last fall.

Sunni Arabs oppose several constitutonal provisions, including those establishing regional governments and governing distribution of the country’s vast oil wealth.

Shiites and Kurds insisted that formation of a committee to study amendments wait until the new Cabinet has been approved.

“This is the beginning of domination by the Kurds and the Shiites who wrote the constitution,” complained Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq, who was a member of the constitutional drafting committee. “I think the constitution is a done deal and no amendments will be made.”