America’s No. 2 diplomat in Iraq predicted progress by fall on bringing together Iraq’s feuding factions as violence claimed more lives Wednesday, including 14 people killed in a late night car bombing near a Shiite shrine in the capital.
In all, at least 60 Iraqis were killed or found dead Wednesday across the country, most of them in the Baghdad area, according to police reports.
U.S. officials have been pressing the Iraqis to enact a series of laws designed to bring together the country’s warring factions, curb the violence and arrest the slide in support for the U.S. mission among the American people and Congress.
During a news conference Wednesday, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat in Iraq said he was hopeful that the Iraqis would make progress on “some” legislation by September.
That’s when Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are to submit a report on prospects for ending the violence.
The report is expected to mark a watershed in the troubled American effort to build a stable democracy in Iraq in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
“We’re in a very significant period of political turmoil. ... But we do expect Iraqis to work through these issues,” U.S. diplomat Daniel Speckhard told reporters. “My expectations are still that they’ll rise to the challenge of producing some key legislation by September.”
Speckhard said much work has been done in Iraq’s parliament on a U.S.-backed law that would regulate the oil industry and distribute revenues among all the country’s ethnic and sectarian groups.
Other “benchmark” bills would amend the constitution, allow many former members of Saddam’s Baath party to get back government jobs and arrange new elections for provincial posts.
All those measures have stalled because of political divisions within the Cabinet and parliament.
'Charter of honor'
In a bid to overcome those differences, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said two major Shiite parties had signed a “charter of honor” to form a new, streamlined Cabinet of technocrats whose members would be appointed on merit and not sectarian affiliation.
The aide, Hassan al-Suneid, said the two major Kurdish parties would sign the pact soon. It was unclear whether the biggest Sunni party was ready to sign on too.
Despite talk of progress, violence continued Wednesday.
In the deadliest attack, at least 14 people were killed and 22 were wounded when a parked car exploded late Wednesday near a major Shiite shrine in the Kazimiyah district of northern Baghdad, police said. The victims were mostly local residents enjoying a warm summer evening.
Khazim al-Taie said he was selling soft drinks at his stand “when I heard a big explosion followed by a big ball of fire.”
“Before I lost consciousness, I was able to see several stalls collapse or catch fire,” al-Taie said. “I saw many frightened people fleeing the place. “
Elsewhere, five policemen were killed in a bombing in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Four other policemen died when gunmen attacked a police station in the Bashir area about 15 miles south of Kirkuk, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said.
In Baghdad, three rockets or mortars slammed into the fortified Green Zone, which includes major U.S. and Iraqi offices. An Iraqi security official said one round exploded near the U.S.-run hospital and another near the residence of one of al-Maliki’s advisers.
There were no reports of casualties, and the official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Five people died and 10 were wounded when a bomb planted under a car exploded in north Baghdad, police said. Three of the injured were police and the other victims were civilians, police said.
In the capital’s Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, at least one person was killed in an exchange of gunfire when four or five men opened fire on American military police, the U.S. command said. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release information to media.
Associated Press Television News video showed two cars riddled with bullet holes in the windshield. Residents told AP Television that two people died in the shootout but they refused to give their names, presumably for fear of reprisal. They claimed the men were shot by American soldiers who were stuck in a traffic jam and opened fire on cars around them.
Departure 'will be facilitated'
Also Wednesday, a leading Sunni politician suggested that the Sunni minister of culture might be allowed to resign and leave Iraq to ease sectarian tensions arising from allegations that he was behind a 2005 assassination attempt against another politician, whose two sons died in the attack.
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi, who has gone into hiding. Sunni politicians claim the allegation is part of a campaign by the Shiite-dominated government to marginalize Sunni political leaders.
In an interview with the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa, Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi said the minister’s departure from Iraq “will be facilitated.”
“I believe he will leave Iraq and declare his resignation,” al-Dulaimi said. “We will all feel relaxed when this case is closed and is not raised by the media or any other side.”