- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BAGHDAD — Clashes erupted between rival Shi’ite groups across the Shi’ite-dominated south yesterday, threatening Iraq with yet another crisis at a time when politicians are struggling to end a constitutional stalemate with Sunni Arabs.

The confrontation in at least five southern cities involved forces loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shi’ite leader who led two uprisings against U.S. forces last year.

Earlier, Sunnis launched the boldest assault by insurgents in weeks in the capital.

Dozens of insurgents wearing black uniforms and masks attacked Iraqi police in western Baghdad with multiple car bombs and small-arms fire that killed at least 13 persons and wounded 43, police said.

Iraq’s president, meanwhile, appealed to faction leaders to win Sunni Arab approval for the charter, so parliament can send it to the public in an Oct. 15 referendum. Sunni clerics condemned the document as too secular and a threat to national unity.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said stability cannot be achieved without consensus among Iraq’s Shi’ites, Sunnis Arabs and Kurds. Representatives of the communities are to meet today.

“The constitution will be to serve everybody and not only one community of the Iraqi society,” Mr. Talabani said in Baghdad after a meeting with parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab.

The Sunni objections include federalism, references to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led Ba’ath Party and the description of Iraq as an Islamic — but not Arab — country.

The brazen daylight attack started about 3:15 p.m. with three car bombs — two piloted by suicide drivers — blasting police patrols in a Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad, police said.

Gunmen then attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, using what the U.S. military refers to as “swarm tactics” — an innovation by an insurgent force that U.S. officials acknowledge is becoming more sophisticated.

American soldiers came under small-arms fire, but suffered no casualties as they rushed to help Iraqi police, the military said. Two U.S. Apache attack helicopters circled over the battle, which lasted more than an hour.

Officials gave varying casualty figures. Police Col. Hussein Jaddou said 13 were killed and 43 wounded, including three policemen, two suicide drivers and a gunman. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said seven insurgents were killed, but gave no overall figure.

The violence erupted as the Pentagon announced it was ordering 1,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq to provide security for the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution and the December national elections.

Trouble in the south began when supporters of Sheik al-Sadr tried to reopen his office in the Shi’ite city of Najaf, which was closed after the end of fighting there last year.

When Shi’ites opposed to Sheik al-Sadr tried to block the move, fights broke out. Four persons were killed, 20 were injured and Sheik al-Sadr’s office was set on fire, police said.

That enraged Sheik al-Sadr’s followers, who blamed the country’s biggest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.

The party, which controls key posts in the national government, quickly denied responsibility and condemned the attack. Mr. Jabr, a member of SCIRI, told Al-Iraqiya television he was dispatching a commando brigade to Najaf to restore order. A curfew was imposed from 11 p.m.

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