- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s leaders have just months to mend their differences or see their country collapse, the speaker of parliament told wrangling deputies yesterday after a car bomb caused dozens of casualties during the morning rush hour.

Ethnic Kurds in the chamber demanded a new national flag. Other members complained about parliament’s agenda, on its first full session after a summer recess.

Upset by the squabbling, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani stepped in.

“Let’s start talking the same language,” he said.

“We have three to four months to reconcile with each other. If the country doesn’t survive this, it will go under,” said Mr. al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s dominant Shi’ite alliance submitted a draft of a new law yesterday to govern the division of the country into autonomous regions, as violence continued unabated.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shi’ite parliamentary bloc, is promoting a “law of regional formation” so that the oil-rich Shi’ite south can win self-rule on the model of the autonomous Kurdish north.

“The law will define how the regions are formed and whether it will be done by the governing council or through popular referendum,” said party member Hamid Mualla al-Saadi.

Sunni lawmakers have vociferously opposed the draft law on autonomous regions, saying it is a prelude to a carving up of the country, which would leave them with just the resources-poor center and west of Iraq.

Eight persons were killed and at least 38 wounded when a car bomb blasted a busy road in the mainly Shi’ite Qahira district of northern Baghdad during the morning rush hour, said police, who also fear a surge in violence later this week when hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites mark a religious festival.

Another 34 bodies were counted in various parts of the capital over the past two days, police told Reuters news agency, some of them bound and blindfolded, typical victims of sectarian kidnappings and killings.

In another development, Iraqi authorities executed 27 convicted “terrorists” yesterday.

“Twenty-seven terrorists were hanged today in Baghdad. Most of them were Iraqis,” Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf told Agence France-Presse.

He said they were convicted for attacks on Iraqi civilians.

A U.S. military spokesman, meanwhile, said that the arrest of al Qaeda in Iraq’s second in command took place in June, much earlier than initially reported, and was the most significant blow to the terror network since the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi on June 7.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was captured on June 19 — not a few days ago as the Iraqi government had initially announced.

“As with most terrorists that are picked up, they are not initially announced as being captured because of the intelligence value that is normally gained from somebody not knowing that they are in fact in Iraqi government control,” Gen. Caldwell said. “There are other people in captivity right now who are not announced.”

Iraq’s national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, announced al-Saeedi’s arrest on Sunday, saying it had occurred a few days earlier.

Al-Saeedi “provided an enormous amount of intelligence,” he said.

“There is no question that the al Qaeda in Iraq network has been degraded and disorganized here in Iraq,” he told Associated Press Radio.

But he warned that the organization is resilient. “They’re still going to be able to do strikes at different times that gain sensationalism on TV,” he said.

He added that the man who masterminded the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra reported directly to al-Saeedi. That attack, 60 miles north of Baghdad, inflamed tensions between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims and triggered months of reprisal attacks that have become part of daily life in Baghdad.

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