- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

BAGHDAD — Bombs exploded for a second day yesterday in the public market of a religiously mixed town south of Baghdad, killing five persons as Sunni lawmakers boycotted parliament to demand the release of a colleague they suspect was kidnapped by Shi’ite militiamen.

Two blasts ripped through the outdoor market in Mahmoudiya — the first about 12:30 p.m. and the second four hours later. Three persons were killed and 22 were wounded in the first blast, police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun said. The second blast killed two and injured three, he said.

Late Sunday, three persons were killed and 10 were wounded in a blast in the same market in Mahmoudiya, a flash point of conflict between Shi’ites who live inside the town and Sunnis who form the majority in surrounding farm communities.

At least 11 other persons were killed in Iraq yesterday, including a U.S. Marine who died in fighting in Anbar province west of the capital, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The U.S. military also reported that an American soldier died Sunday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad.

Such attacks are a challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s plan to restore stability in Iraq by cracking down on attackers while promising national reconciliation.

Top Iraqi officials have fanned out across the Middle East seeking support from neighboring countries for the government’s reconciliation plan.

Mr. al-Maliki arrived yesterday in the United Arab Emirates on the second stop of a three-nation Persian Gulf tour. The prime minister, a Shi’ite, held talks last weekend with officials in Saudi Arabia and will go to Kuwait before returning home.

The largest Sunni bloc in parliament boycotted a legislative session yesterday to press demands for the release of a female Sunni legislator, Tayseer al-Mashhadani, who was seized two days ago by gunmen in a mostly Shi’ite district of the capital.

Sunni politician Noureddine al-Hyali said Mrs. al-Mashhadani was thought to be held somewhere near eastern Baghdad’s Ur neighborhood — a predominantly Shi’ite area controlled by the Mahdi militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“We got this information from Iraqi security forces as well as the Americans,” Mr. al-Hyali said. There was no confirmation of his assertion.

Other Sunni politicians repeated Mr. al-Hyali’s claim but refused to be identified by name for fear of retaliation by Shi’ite extremists.

However, a Shi’ite official with close ties to Sheik al-Sadr, Ali al-Lami, insisted the Mahdi Army was not holding Mrs. al-Mashhadani and had offered to help find her.

Bassem Sherif, a member of the main Shi’ite bloc, urged the Sunnis to come forward with any information about the kidnapping and end their boycott.

“Such a boycott only serves the goals of the terrorists because they will feel that they have succeeded in hampering the political march in this country,” he said.

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