Beset by rampant sectarian violence, Iraq’s parliament voted Wednesday to extend the country’s state of emergency for 30 more days, as at least 66 more Iraqis were killed or found dead.
Wednesday’s deaths included those of eight soccer players and fans cut down by a pair of mortar rounds that slammed onto a field in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of a soldier and a Marine, raising the number of American forces killed this month in Iraq to 21 in the first eight days of November.
Lawmakers present for a closed-door meeting attended by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki voted unanimously to extend the emergency measures, said legislators Ammar Touama and Kamal al-Saidi.
The state of emergency has been renewed every month since it was first authorized in November 2004. It allows for a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations. The measures are implemented in all areas of the country apart from the autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
Under sunny skies, mortars struck the Sadr City playing field just after 4:30 p.m. during a game between young men from the sprawling Shiite slum that is home to about 2.5 million people, said a captain with the local police force, Mohammed Ismail.
‘We are the Shiite nation’
Twenty others were wounded in the attack, which came after days of mortar barrages launched by rival Sunni and Shiite groups on residential areas that have killed dozens in the capital.
Wounded players were brought to the area’s al-Sadr Hospital still wearing their blue uniforms.
“We are the Shiite nation, and we aren’t going anywhere,” one bleeding man shouted from his hospital bed.
U.S. forces said they killed 14 suspected insurgents, detained 48, and rescued a kidnapped Iraqi policeman in a pair of raids Tuesday and Wednesday near Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, and Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Weapons including sniper rifles and explosives-rigged vests worn by suicide bombers were seized in the raids, along with materials for making the roadside bombs that account for a large proportion of U.S. deaths in the country, the military said.
Police found the bodies of three apparent death squad victims on Baghdad streets a day after the bullet-riddled bodies of 15 victims were found floating in the Tigris River south of the capital. Hundreds of such killings — in which victims are bound hand and foot, blindfolded, and often tortured — have been recorded since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in February that ignited successive waves of sectarian killings.
U.S. elevates pressure on al-Maliki
In the final days before Tuesday’s midterm election, President Bush dispatched two top officials to Iraq in a bid to pressure al-Maliki to quickly disband Shiite militia groups and death squads that have killed thousands of Sunni Muslims.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was rebuffed by al-Maliki, however, when he demanded the Iraqi leader disband militias and wipe out death squads this year.
A top aide to al-Maliki, who refused to allow use of his name because of the sensitive nature of the information, told The Associated Press the prime minister flatly refused and said the task could not be taken up until next year.
Al-Maliki’s refusal to act against the militias has caused deepening anger among Sunni politicians who took enormous risks in joining the political process.
Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah said the Iraqi Accordance Front bloc had sent messages to other political groups warning that if there is no balance and the militias are not dissolved “we will withdraw from the government.”
“We are under political pressure, and if these demands are not met we will abandon politics,” Abdullah said. “And this will leave us with only one alternative, which is carrying arms, and then it will be civil war. And we are against the civil war.”