- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

BAGHDAD — A thousand Sunnis assembled in the Iraqi capital yesterday and formed an alliance of religious, political and tribal groups to push for a stronger role in the country’s Shi’ite-dominated power structure.

But the new Sunni group’s first act, a demand that the interior minister resign, threatened to fuel sectarian tensions following the recent killing of several Sunni clerics that have been blamed on Shi’ite-dominated security forces.

Ten clerics, both Sunni and Shi’ite, have been killed by gunmen in the past two weeks. Sunnis dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but Shi’ites make up the majority and hold the bulk of power in the new government.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a Shi’ite, denied the government was involved in the killings and said he would not step down.

“No one has the right to call for the resignation of a minister, only parliament can do that. Those who didn’t get one vote have no right to ask,” Mr. Jabr said, referring to the fact that many Sunnis stayed away from Jan. 30 elections either in protest or fear of attacks.

The newly created Sunni alliance, which has not adopted a name, will open its first office in Baghdad with branches later in other cities.

“The decisions taken by this body will be shared by all Sunni parties and movements, Islamists, independents, merchants, military officers, heads of tribes and workers,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of the Sunni Endowment.

The charitable organization was one of three main Sunni groups to back the formation of the new organization. The others were the influential Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Eight members of an elite Interior Ministry force known as the Wolf Brigade died yesterday in a predawn ambush on their 20-vehicle convoy in downtown Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Four more police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Violence also has taken its toll on reconstruction efforts and insurgents targeting oil lines, electricity plants and other infrastructure projects have delayed U.S. plans to invest $21 billion in resources for the country’s reconstruction, a U.S. official said.

Bill Taylor, director of the U.S.-led Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, said ceaseless attacks — the military has said they average 70 a day — have led to skyrocketing security demands, with up to 16 percent of all project costs now being spent on protection.

So far $7.5 billion of this sum has been paid to contractors to perform works. Rebuilding, training and equipping Iraq’s own security forces will require $5 billion, he added.

There were fears that the publication Friday and yesterday of pictures showing the imprisoned Saddam, including one where he is clad only in his underwear, could further fuel anti-American sentiment.

The new pictures in Britain’s Sun tabloid included one of Saddam seen through barbed wire wearing a white Arab robe, and another of Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali,” in a bathrobe and holding a towel. The newspaper also ran pictures of Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a biotech researcher dubbed “Mrs. Anthrax.”

The Sun said the photos were provided by “U.S. military sources” it did not identify. The U.S. military condemned publication of the photos and ordered an investigation into the leak.

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