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Sunni group demands action as body count surges in Iraq

Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

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April 14, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq Ś Sunni Arab political leaders said Thursday that nearly 90 Sunnis had been reported abducted or killed in the past two days by groups with possible ties to the nation's Shiite Muslim-led Interior Ministry forces.

In one incident, up to 25 men just released from detention were reportedly whisked away by gunmen in SUVs. The Sunnis also allege that 20 corpses turned up in Baghdad, all people reportedly abducted by security forces on the morning of April 4.

The facts remain sketchy and difficult to confirm, and the political groups making the claims previously exaggerated figures and accounts. Two ranking members of Iraq's security forces said they knew nothing about the fresh reports of abductions and deaths.

But the accusations, broadcast over radio stations and posted on political Web sites, likely will further inflame tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shiite majority. The reports come as each group's political leaders try to depict the other side as carrying out sectarian violence in an attempt to gain leverage in the country's power struggle.

"We swear that after today, denouncing and condemning is not enough, and tongues that speak will not be pleased unless hands take action after the new tremendous crime committed by security apparatuses, a crime that shakes consciences, wets eyes and wakes from sleep," said a statement by the Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni clerical group.

A U.S. soldier in Baghdad was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in an area southwest of the capital, the military said.

More U.S. troops have died in the first two weeks of April Ś 36 Ś than in all of March, when 31 died. At least 2,365 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

U.S. forces, which had scaled back operations in the capital, have increased patrols by 45 percent in the past two months in hopes their presence will stem the increasing sectarian violence.

"The increase is to give more visible presence of the security forces inside the streets of Baghdad," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for U.S. forces, said Thursday. Insurgents "want to stop the formation of a national unity government by triggering sectarian violence. ... The enemy is still there, but we are taking the fight to the enemy, specifically in Baghdad."

Later Thursday, an explosion in a crowded marketplace of a poor Shiite neighborhood on Baghdad's northern outskirts killed at least 15 and injured 27, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Shiite civilians and houses of worship. A triple suicide bombing after Friday prayers last week at Baghdad's Buratha Mosque left scores dead, and security officials braced for more violence today, the Muslim world's day of worship.

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Gunmen ambushed a large police convoy in a rural area north of the capital Thursday, killing at least 17 officers, according to a police lieutenant. The assault on a convoy of 50 to 60 police cars erupted outside the town of Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad, according to an officer with the police rapid-reaction force in Najaf province.

Attempts to form a government continued to stall, with Iraq's Shiite parties challenging a decision by the Parliament's Sunni president emeritus to convene the Parliament next week before politicians had outlined a government.

Talks remain stalemated over Sunni and Kurdish opposition to acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's nomination to continue in his post by the largest Shiite bloc in Parliament.

The 20 bodies found in recent days were mostly Sunnis said by their relatives and morgue officials to be found scattered around Baghdad.

The victims were among 63 people allegedly abducted in a morning Iraqi police raid April 4 in Dora, according to the statement issued by the Muslim Scholars Association.

A police source said at least four bodies of unknown men were discovered Thursday in various parts of the capital.

Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.


:: Article nr. 22558 sent on 14-apr-2006 14:25 ECT

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Link: seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002929526_iraq14.html



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