- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

BAGHDAD — The Shi’ite prime minister promised yesterday to reshuffle his Cabinet after calling lawmakers disloyal and blaming Sunni Muslims for raging sectarian violence that has claimed at least 159 more lives — including 35 men waiting to join Iraq’s police force.

Among the unusually high number of dead were 50 bodies found behind a regional electrical company in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and 25 found scattered throughout the capital. Three U.S. troops were reported killed, as were four British service members.

Also yesterday, the Sunni defense minister challenged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s contention that the U.S. military should quickly pull back into bases and let the Iraqi army take control of security countrywide. Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi said his men still were too poorly equipped and trained to do the job.

“We are working hard to create a real army, and we ask our government not to try to move too quickly because of the political pressure it feels. Our technical needs are real, and that is very important if we are to be a real force against insecurity,” Mr. al-Obaidi said.

Mr. al-Maliki wants the Americans confined to bases, where they can be called in emergencies, but he boldly predicted that his army could crush violence within six months if left alone to do the work.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said last month that it would take 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army was ready to take control of the country with some U.S. backup.

Lawmakers from Mr. al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party said Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani was at the top of the list to lose his post in the coming Cabinet shake-up, which the prime minister promised during a closed-door parliament session yesterday, because that has reached civil war proportions in Baghdad and the center of the country.

Mr. al-Bolani, a Shi’ite whose police and security forces have failed to halt unbridled sectarian killing, is an independent. The United States had demanded that the defense and interior posts be held by officials without ties to the Shi’ite political parties that control militia forces.

Mr. al-Maliki is under pressure both from his people and the United States to curb violence, with Washington leaning on him to disband Shi’ite militias, whose death squads are thought to be responsible for much of the killings.

The prime minister’s hold on power depends on both the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, with its Badr Brigade military wing and radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political movement.

The interior minister controls police and other security forces, which already are infiltrated by the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of Sheik al-Sadr’s political movement.

After nearly 48 hours without reporting a death, the U.S. military said three soldiers assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division died Saturday of combat wounds in Anbar province, the insurgent stronghold west of the capital. Their deaths raised to 2,848 the number of service members who have had died since the start of the war in March 2003.

Four British troops were killed in an attack on a patrol boat in Basra’s Shatt al-Arab waterway in southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defense said in London.

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