From combined dispatches
BAGHDAD — A car bomb killed at least 22 persons outside a Shi’ite mosque northeast of Baghdad yesterday as Iraqi leaders failed to make progress toward forming a national unity government they hope can avert sectarian civil war.
The explosion in the village of Huweder was the latest in a wave of attacks against Iraq’s Shi’ite majority that Washington fears will push the country close to a full-scale communal conflict in the vacuum left by bickering politicians.
Huweder, on the outskirts of Baqouba, was the scene of a truck bombing Oct. 30 that killed 30 persons. The village is in a religiously mixed area where Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are high.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of four more American soldiers. Three soldiers were killed yesterday in roadside bombings — two south of Baghdad and a third on patrol east of the capital. A soldier from the 101st Airborne Division died Monday from a “non-battle injury” near Tal Afar in the north.
Last month, 31 U.S. service members died in Iraq, the lowest monthly figure since February 2005, according to an Associated Press count. This month, the U.S. death toll stands at 35.
At least 2,362 U.S. personnel, including seven civilians working for the military, have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden, praised insurgents in Iraq, particularly Abu Musab Zarqawi, and called on all Muslims to support them in a video posted yesterday on the Internet.
The video was dated an Islamic month corresponding to November — and Zawahri mentions an October earthquake that hit Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it appeared to be the first time the 28-minute video has been made public.
It was not clear why the video was not released soon after the date it appeared to be filmed. Al-Zawahri has appeared in at least three videotapes filmed since November, all of them aired on the Al Jazeera news network.
In the new posting, he called on Muslims to support his “beloved brother” Zarqawi, who heads al Qaeda in Iraq. “I have lived with him up close, and have seen nothing but good from him,” al-Zawahri said.
Doubts on convening parliament next week surfaced from key Shi’ite politicians, who said they still have not decided whether to replace their candidate for prime minister to break a deadlock over forming a new government.
Parliament Speaker Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Arab, said at a nationally televised press conference that he would call parliament into session Monday to push forward the government-formation efforts, which have been snarled for weeks over who will serve as prime minister.
“It is my duty to the Iraqi people in order to preserve the credibility of the democratic process,” Mr. Pachachi said.
Iraqis chose the 275-member assembly Dec. 15, but the legislature met once — briefly — last month because the country’s ethnically and religiously based parties have not agreed on a new government of national unity.