- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

BAGHDAD — U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called yesterday for national reconciliation in Iraq during a surprise visit, arriving just as a car bomb exploded near a market in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad and killed eight shoppers.

Mr. Annan’s first trip to Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion was the third by a high-level international official in as many days. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Friday, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw the day before.

All three encouraged disaffected Sunni Arabs, who form the core of the insurgency, to participate in the parliamentary elections next month.

The U.N. leader also endorsed Arab League efforts to organize a conference bringing together Iraq’s varied groups to heal the nation’s divisions.

“This political transition process is extremely important,” Mr. Annan said at U.N. offices. “It must be a process that is inclusive, transparent and takes into account concerns of all groups.”

However, the leader of the biggest Shi’ite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, told Mr. Annan he was not interested in a conference that included Saddam loyalists, members of the former regime and Sunni religious fanatics thought to be responsible for suicide attacks against civilians.

That position, echoed by other Iraqi Shi’ite officials, would appear to rule out participation by most of those fighting the U.S.-led coalition and its Iraqi allies.

Iraq’s Shi’ites and Kurds have been suspicious of the Arab League, fearing it would favor the Sunni Arabs. Most Arab countries are majority Sunni, although Shi’ites include about 60 percent of Iraq’s estimated 27 million residents.

In another development, a Web site run by former leaders in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, confirmed that the highest-ranking official still at large in Saddam’s regime had died. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri had been accused by the United States of playing a key role in organizing the insurgency against coalition forces, but he had suffered from leukemia.

As Mr. Annan arrived in the capital, a car rigged with explosives detonated in the New Baghdad neighborhood as crowds shopped there. The eight dead included a woman and her 8-year-old daughter, police Lt. Col. Hassan Chaloub said. The explosion triggered a large fire that destroyed dozens of market stalls.

Also yesterday, the country’s biggest Sunni Arab political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, called for an end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations in mostly Sunni Anbar province, saying they “could abort the political process” by discouraging Sunnis there from voting. U.S. and Iraqi forces have initiated an operation in Anbar to clear insurgents from strongholds near the Syrian border.

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