- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged in a speech to parliament yesterday that the militants who have made life intolerable in Baghdad would not be safe anywhere in Iraq in the face of a coming U.S.-Iraqi security sweep.

Mr. al-Maliki did not reveal the details of the plan, which he has dubbed “Operation Imposing Law,” or say when it would begin. But he made clear that it would not be the last such battle against the militants.

“We are full of hope. We have no other choice but to use force and any place where we receive fire will not be safe even if it is a school, a mosque, a political party office or home,” he said. “There will be no safe place in Iraq for terrorists.”

As if to underline the urgency of the security drive, an extremist exploded a suicide bomb in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Karradah, killing at least 26 persons just hours after the prime minister spoke. In other violence, two rockets slammed into the Green Zone not far from the U.S. Embassy.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Baghdad’s Sadr City said he reached agreement with political and religious groups to keep weapons off the streets of the heavily populated Shi’ite militia stronghold, and has presented the deal to U.S. and Iraqi government officials in an apparent attempt to avoid a crackdown on the area.

Rahim al-Darraji said Iraqi troops will be in charge of security in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad. His comments come amid fears that Sadr City, the main headquarters of the Mahdi Army militia, could be a major target in the planned crackdown.

U.S. officials have indicated that the security operation, to which President Bush has pledged an additional 21,500 troops, should start in earnest about Feb. 1. A brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division already has arrived for the mission.

The prime minister vowed yesterday to go after those behind Baghdad’s rampant violence regardless of their sectarian beliefs, promising at the same time to ensure the human rights of innocent Iraqis.

Past attempts to secure the capital have failed, and many critics said it was because Mr. al-Maliki intervened to protect members of the Mahdi Army militia that is run by one of his prime political backers, Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Cleric Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi yesterday accused the Shi’ite-dominated government of carrying out purges against Sunnis, the minority Islamic sect in Iraq.

“The firing of officers and civil servants under the pretext of de-Ba’athification should stop. What kind of national reconciliation are you talking about when you are implementing rules that marginalize” Sunnis, he asked.

“Stop sentencing innocent people to death because such sentences are politically motivated,” Mr. al-Janabi implored, adding that Sunnis do not trust the government.

Mr. al-Maliki counterattacked by implying that Mr. al-Janabi was responsible for the kidnapping of 150 persons in Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad.

“This brother will trust the Cabinet when I come forward with your file and show that you are responsible. There are 150 people detained in Buhayrat area, and you don’t speak about them,” Mr. al-Maliki snapped. Buhayrat is an insurgent stronghold in Anbar.

In his address, Mr. al-Maliki also called on lawmakers to enact laws on distribution of the country’s oil wealth and reverse measures that have excluded many Sunnis from jobs and government positions because of Ba’ath Party membership.

Mr. al-Maliki also promised to stop the so-called practice of sectarian cleansing that has driven thousands from their homes.

“You should know that today or tomorrow we will detain every person who is living in the house of a displaced person in order to open the door for those displaced to return,” Mr. al-Maliki said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called the speech “a very assertive address. … We certainly welcome that, because it demonstrates the kind of vigor we’ve been talking about and that the American people expect, and also responds specifically to concerns members of Congress have been expressing, in terms of the aims of and the determination of the government of Iraq.”

After the car bombing, angry Karradah residents took to the streets chanting, “We want the Sunnis out.” It was the second suicide bombing in three days in the neighborhood. The explosion destroyed three minivans, 11 cars and dozens of shops, as well as the local post office, a resident said.

Seven charred bodies were visible in one of the vans, including that of a woman who was half out a window in an apparent attempt to escape the inferno. Another women dressed in black was seen screaming in front of her son’s shop, where he was killed. Ambulances raced from the scene, at least one with the back door still open and bodies stacked in the back.

A second huge explosion later rattled the capital, but police said it was a controlled blast to destroy a second car explosive that had been disabled before its suicide bomber could detonate it.

As the rockets fell and bombs exploded across the Tigris River, the public-address system inside the Green Zone compound could be heard warning in English that people should take cover because “this is not a drill.”

Five persons were wounded in the rocket attack, none seriously. Mortar and rocket attacks hit the zone frequently, but reported casualties are rare.

Police yesterday reported 61 killed in sectarian violence nationwide, including the bodies of 22 torture victims dumped in Baghdad, and a parliamentary debate was suspended briefly after arguments broke out between Sunnis and Shi’ites over security.

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