Sunday, October 15, 2006

BAGHDAD — A militant network that includes al Qaeda in Iraq declared in a video yesterday that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces where Sunni Muslims are dominant.

The government, meanwhile, postponed a much-anticipated national-reconciliation conference yesterday as a two-day spree of sectarian revenge killings and insurgent bombings left at least 86 Iraqis dead.

The video announcement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council — an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq — was seen as a propaganda push in its drive to force the withdrawal of U.S. forces and topple the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

But it follows parliamentary approval last week of a federalism bill — opposed by most Sunnis — that would permit the eventual creation of a semiautonomous Shi’ite region in the oil-rich south, much like the Kurdish region in the north.

The video said the new state was made up of six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shi’ite.

Responding to the statement, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhedani, derided the group’s leaders as “vulgar with no religion, who only kill others under the pretext of jihad [holy war].”

“Those who believe in this council are ignorant, and those who follow it are foolish,” Mr. al-Mashhedani said. “This council caused the sectarian conflict as well the displacement of both Shi’ites and Sunnis.”

The militants’ announcement appeared mainly symbolic, since no Iraqi insurgent group has the strength or authority to act as a rival government and none controls territory.

It underscored, however, the weakness of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and its inability to bring Iraq’s deeply divided politicians together.

In announcing a postponement of the reconciliation conference, the Ministry of State for National Dialogue said only that the gathering, which had been planned for Saturday, had been put off for “emergency reasons out of the control of the ministry.”

The al-Maliki administration took office just over four months ago, vowing to implement a 24-point national-reconciliation plan to heal the nation’s severe political wounds.

Mr. al-Maliki did not comment on the postponement, but issued a message to the Iraqi people yesterday praising them for approving the country’s first post-Saddam Hussein constitution exactly one year ago, while acknowledging the document’s adoption had intensified the insurgency.

“It is your vote on the constitution that forced the terrorists … to commit horrific massacres against innocent civilians and violate the sanctity of holy places, destroy infrastructure, obstruct reconstruction and services,” he said.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported that one Marine and four soldiers were killed Friday and Saturday.

Weekend revenge killings among Shi’ites and Sunnis left at least 63 persons dead in Balad, a city north of Baghdad, while 11 persons died yesterday in a series of apparently coordinated bombings of a school for girls and other targets in the northern city of Kirkuk.

In Baghdad, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Hala Shakir Salim survived a roadside bomb attack that killed seven others, police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said. The Interior Ministry runs Iraqi police forces.

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