- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen killed the son of Iraq’s top judge yesterday, and a series of bombs and explosions damaged a Shi’ite shrine east of the volatile city of Baqouba.

Police found the bodies yesterday of Ahmed Midhat al-Mahmoud, 22, a lawyer, and two of his bodyguards in northern Baghdad’s Azamiyah district, officials said.

The killings occurred five months after Mr. al-Mahmoud’s father, Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud, survived a suicide bomb attack against his home.

Judge al-Mahmoud heads the Supreme Judicial Council, a supervisory body that swears in all judges and parliament.

The attack on the Shi’ite shrine, meanwhile, marked the second time this year that a site sacred to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority has been targeted.

The blasts occurred about 11 p.m. at the shrine, according to the Diyala provincial police Joint Coordination Center and Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

On Feb. 22, bombs heavily damaged the Golden Dome in Samarra, which holds the tomb of Imam Abdullah’s father.

That attack triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis, dramatically escalating sectarian tension and pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

Elsewhere, attacks outside Baghdad killed five Iraqis and a U.S. soldier, part of the undercurrent of daily violence amid attempts to build a police force, an army and establish a stable government.

Frustrated with such violence in the south, the governor of oil-rich Basra, Mohammed al-Waeli, asked his provincial council to fire the regional police chief and the Defense Ministry to sack an Iraqi army general.

Mr. al-Waeli, a member of the dominant Shi’ite coalition, demanded the dismissal of police Maj. Gen. Hassan Swadi and army Maj. Gen. Abdullatif Taaban for failing to rein in violence that has marred his region in recent days.

In one success, Kurdish security forces in the north said they arrested five men who had escaped on May 9 from the U.S. military Fort Suse theater internment facility near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

In political developments, Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki urged a breakaway party to return to the ranks of the Shi’ite coalition that dominates the 275-member parliament, and again join negotiations to form his government.

Parliament, which must approve the makeup of the government, was to convene today, and some lawmakers have suggested that Mr. al-Maliki could present some of his Cabinet.

The Washington Times reported Friday that Mr. al-Maliki could appoint himself temporary interior minister and defense minister to get around an impasse on the two key ministries.

Wrangling over the makeup of a government that will be representative of all religious groups and political trends has delayed for months the formation of a new government since the successful Dec. 15 legislative elections, which saw a record turnout among Sunni Arabs, who form the heart of the insurgency.

The Shi’ite Fadhila party withdrew from negotiations and removed the support of its 15 deputies for the 130-strong United Iraqi Alliance Friday after complaining, in part, over Mr. al-Maliki’s failure to give it the country’s Oil Ministry. The party held the oil and tourism portfolios under outgoing Shi’ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The party has threatened to set up an opposition bloc in parliament.

Mr. al-Maliki said that he was “keen on the participation of the Fadhila party in the formation of the government and its participation in the United Iraqi Alliance.”

“Fadhila is part of the alliance,” he added. “If there is a dispute over ministerial posts, it can be resolved through dialogue.”

Fadhila spokesman Sheik Sabah al-Saedi said earlier that the party’s 15 legislators in the parliament would go ahead and form an opposition bloc. He denied the oil portfolio was behind the decision to withdraw.

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