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Violence, ethnic tensions undermine Iraq's fledgling government

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraq's one-day-old government was hit Friday by a wave of deadly attacks against its security forces and the angry withdrawal of several Sunni Arab politicians whom it had hoped to bring into leadership posts.

The one-two punch underscored the violence and sectarian strife inherited by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his Shiite-dominated Cabinet, which was approved Thursday after three months of deadlock.

The bloodshed and discord also revealed the weaknesses of the new administration, including the inability of Iraqi forces to stop insurgent attacks and the political failure to include the Sunni Arab minority in governing the war-ravaged nation.

The group of prominent Sunni political leaders from the National Dialogue Council withdrew from negotiations and said they wouldn't enter the government after a series of raids and the arrests of three prominent Sunni religious leaders overnight.

"From the first day, they want to show their muscles," said Mishaan al-Jubouri, a Sunni assembly member and part of the National Dialogue Council, complaining about the raids. "This is a very dangerous message by the new government ... which may lead to civil war in the future. I'll not feel safe about myself and my people under such a government."

A series of at least 12 suicide bombings and mortar attacks killed three U.S. servicemen and more than 40 others, and injured more than 100 at Iraqi police and military sites in Baghdad and other cities, authorities said.

The Americans were killed in car bombings outside the capital, in Balad and Diyarah, said Lt. Commander Gil Mendez, a U.S. military spokesman. The soldier killed in Balad belonged to the 1st Corps Support Command. The other two Americans were assigned to the 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Another U.S. soldier was killed and four were wounded in a roadside bombing late Thursday night in Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, the military said Friday.

Several Iraqi civilians were among the dead, including a woman who was found slumped over her baby. The infant was believed to be the sole survivor on a minibus that was caught in one of four bombings in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Adhemiya on Friday, the holy day for Muslims.

Bits of flesh, slippers and an abaya, the long black robe worn by traditional Muslim women, were strewn about on the blood-soaked street after a car detonated near an Iraqi military checkpoint. The force of the blast blew out windows in a nearby school and destroyed more than a dozen shops and apartments. Two vans carrying women and children were caught in the flames.

"I saw a pregnant woman dead with her abdomen open," said Yasser Abdul Rahman, 40. "It was such a terrible scene."

The horror of such violence in their neighborhoods has eroded many Iraqis' faith in the leaders they risked their lives to elect.

"We don't care about any government ... ," said Mansour Ibrahim, 34, a car salesman who witnessed the attack. "They will work on their parties' interests. And the Iraqi people are the victims."

A car bomber also killed an Iraqi soldier near the southern port city of Basra, Iraqi authorities said.

The Iraq branch of the al-Qaida terror group claimed responsibility for the rampage Friday in an Internet statement that couldn't be immediately verified. In the message, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant with a $25 million bounty on his head, called the operation the "Battle of Omar Hadid," a reference to his Iraqi lieutenant who was believed killed in the U.S.-led assault on Fallujah in November.

"We have not forgotten you ... knight of the country of two rivers," read the statement, in an allusion to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that run through Iraq.

In a separate audiotape purportedly recorded by al-Zarqawi and released Friday, the militant urged rebels to strike U.S. forces.

"Oh, martyrs' brigades, set out with God's blessing," the voice on the tape said. "Do not leave a single convoy on course or a checkpoint for them to stand at. And turn their nights into days."

Al-Zarqawi's last recording was released just before the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections and encouraged violence to stop Iraq's Shiite majority from taking power. The mostly Sunni insurgency has repeatedly targeted Shiite politicians and religious institutions, although Shiites so far have refrained from a full-scale counterattack.

The Sunni Arab politicians who withdrew from negotiations with al-Jaafari for Cabinet positions said the Shiite premier was building a government with no place for Sunnis.

Shiite leaders disagreed, saying they were trying to include Sunnis in the government.

"We're still waiting for them to submit the names of their candidates, because they represent a broad base of society," said Haithem al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the dominant party in the government. "We are keen on involving everyone in the political process."

The National Dialogue Council, said that, in addition to the raids on the religious leaders' homes, Iraqi commandos raided its headquarters before dawn Friday, beat the night watchmen and cursed them "with the most immoral and sectarian words."

"We see this as a campaign started by a sectarian government," said Sheik Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni clerics who opposed January's elections.

Al-Kubaisi said three clerics had been detained and one killed during early morning raids on mosques and homes carried out by Iraqi security forces on orders from the new government.

The new interior minister, Baqir Jabr, was in meetings with al-Jaafari and couldn't be reached for comment. But the minister's son, who answered the phone at their home, denied that his father had detained any clerics.

"My father hasn't started his work in the ministry yet," Zaid Baqir Jabr Solagh said. "He still hasn't even taken his oath (of office) yet."


(Bahadur reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Yasser Salihee, Mohamed al Awsy, Mohamed al Dulaimy and Huda Ahmed contributed to this report.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.