- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

BAGHDAD — Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of Iraq’s top Shi’ite party, called yesterday for Iraqi forces to play a greater security role and for an end to “interference in their work” — an apparent reference to U.S. efforts to curb abuses by the Shi’ite-led interior ministry.

The remarks by the prominent Shi’ite politician, came as the U.S. military drafted plans to move up to 5,000 U.S. troops with armored vehicles and tanks into Baghdad in an effort to quell escalating violence.

Mr. al-Hakim told thousands of supporters at a rally in the southern city of Najaf that the Americans should turn over more security responsibilities to the Iraqis and stop “the interference in their work.”

He said the surging violence was due to “being lax in hunting down terrorists and upholding the wrong policies in dealing with them.”

Sunni extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, Mr. al-Hakim said, are to blame for the violence. However, he endorsed the government’s pledge to disband militias, including those affiliated with Shi’ite politicians.

Mr. al-Hakim, the former commander of the feared Badr Brigade militia, has long complained that Americans have interfered with Iraqi forces’ efforts to crack down on Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda in Iraq militants.

Those complaints grew more frequent after U.S. troops raided an interior ministry lockup last November and found prisoners showing signs of torture. At the time, the ministry was controlled by Mr. al-Hakim’s party, which still wields considerable influence although the ministers were changed in May.

Members of his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, have been suspicious of U.S. and Iraqi government peace overtures to Sunni insurgents and have privately complained that top Sunni politicians have intervened to free suspects picked up in Baghdad.

The insurgency and the sectarian attacks are essentially two fronts in the same conflict — the struggle for power between Iraq’s two major religious sects unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion that swept away Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003.

In the streets of the capital yesterday, a bomb planted between a Sunni mosque and a youth center exploded during prayers, killing four persons and wounding another nine, police said.

In other violence, gunmen in Tikrit killed two civilians who were employed by U.S. troops, while a U.S. Marine was killed in action in western Iraq, officials said.

The Baghdad attack came during a four-hour driving ban police hoped would hold down sectarian attacks that have threatened to divide the capital city in recent weeks.

The Marine was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, which operates in Anbar province. He died Thursday, the command said.


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