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Al-Maliki defends plan to stop sectarian violence in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The new plan to stop the sectarian violence that's ravaging Iraq's capital hasn't been published and no one will announce when it will start, but that didn't stop an angry debate on the proposal Thursday in the nation's parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged that the government would be evenhanded when it implements the plan, targeting "criminals" rather than religious or ethnic communities.

But Sunni Muslim legislators denounced the plan, and one called it a "shame" for Iraq because it calls for an additional 21,500 American troops, whom President Bush dispatched as part of his new strategy for Iraq.

In a rare look at the raw bitterness that splits Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the televised debate grew acrimonious, with legislators trading accusations about terrorists in their neighborhoods and al-Maliki accusing one Sunni legislator of insurgent activity.

"We cannot trust the prime minister's government," said Abdul Nasir al-Janabi of the Iraqi Accord Front, a Sunni Islamist party.

"This brother sheik will trust the prime minister's government only when I hand over your file and hold you responsible," al-Maliki responded.

"For what?" al-Janabi asked.

"For 150 kidnapped people in Al-Buhayrat neighborhood," al-Maliki said. "He didn't talk about them and he is responsible." Shiite and Kurdish legislators broke into applause.

Outside, fighting raged on. Along Haifa Street, where Iraqi forces with American support have been battling suspected Sunni insurgents since Jan. 9, residents reached by phone said helicopters were circling the area and that bodies had been left in the street.

A car bomb in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada killed 25 and injured 50. Two roadside bombs in the Baiyaa neighborhood killed three civilians. A bomb attached to a motorcycle killed two civilians and wounded 12 others near the Shorga market in downtown Baghdad.

The U.S. military reported one soldier killed and three wounded from a roadside bomb northwest of the capital on Thursday. Police said 42 bodies bearing signs of torture were found scattered throughout the capital.

At least two mortar rounds landed in the fortified Green Zone, where U.S. and Iraqi officials are headquartered. No one was injured and there was little damage, said Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.

Al-Maliki, in presenting his security plan to Iraq's 275-member parliament, the Iraqi Council of Representatives, dismissed suggestions that it was dictated by the United States.

"First, I want to confirm that it's a 100-percent Iraqi plan under Iraqi command," he said. "For the first time the Iraq forces and command hold the responsibility of such a big operation."

Al-Maliki attacked critics who said that the Shiite-led government won't crack down on the Shiite militias that have been terrorizing Sunnis.

"Some say that the plan targets Shiites, and others say it targets Sunnis. I want to say it targets all, but all those who break the law," al-Maliki said.

In the next day or so, al-Maliki said, authorities plan to inventory homes abandoned by people who've fled the violence. Anyone occupying those homes without permission will be arrested, he said.

But the main goal of the security plan will be to confiscate weapons, he said, through door-to-door searches of homes, mosques and political party bases, if necessary.

"Arms should be in the hands of the government," he said. "There will be no state if there are others besides the government carrying weapons."

Al-Maliki said that the government would introduce an identification system and that 30,000 passports were being printed every day to prepare for it.

Several delegates expressed doubts about the plan and the debate grew heated. Al-Janabi demanded an end to the siege of Haifa Street.

"Why are you besieging towns and cities?" he asked. He was quickly interrupted.

"Because there are terrorists there," said Baha al-Araji, a legislator loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has been accused of killing of Sunnis across the capital.

The speaker of the parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, jumped in.

"There are no terrorists in Sadr City or Shoala?" he asked with sarcasm, referring to two Shiite areas of the city. "Or are you afraid to say?"

In the end, Shiite and Kurdish legislators approved the plan, but not before al-Maliki conceded that it might not resolve Iraq's violence. The leaders of many armed groups have already left Baghdad with their weapons in anticipation of the stepped-up patrols, he said.

In response to concerns that security forces have targeted families because of the criminal activity of one person, al-Maliki pledged that such action would stop. "No one will be arrested because his brother is a terrorist," he said.

At a press conference after the parliament session, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, has pledged to not take sides in the Iraq civil war. Al-Maliki had demanded the same of his other neighbors, al-Dabbagh said.

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(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Leila Fadel contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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