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Rice arrives in Baghdad amid continuing political instability, violence

Rice arrives in Baghdad amid continuing political instability, violence

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, making an election-season visit to Iraq, said Thursday she will tell its leaders they have limited time to settle political differences spurring sectarian and insurgent violence.
"They don't have time for endless debate of these issues," Rice said during a news conference aboard her plane. "They have really got to move forward. That is one of the messages that I'll take, but it will also be a message of support and what can we do to help."
Rice was meeting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials as a sectarian spiral of revenge killings between Shiites and Sunnis threatens to undermine his government. The tit-for-tat killings have become the deadliest violence in Iraq, with thousands slain in recent months, and Shiite and Sunni parties in his coalition accuse each other of backing militias.
Iraqis must resolve for themselves complex problems, she said, such as the division of oil wealth.
On Monday, al-Maliki announced a new security plan to unite the feuding parties, creating local committees in which Sunnis and Shiites will work together to manage efforts to stop the violence on a district-by-district level.
But contentious details of the plan still must be worked out _ and Shiite and Sunni parties for a second day on Wednesday put off negotiations.
At the same time, Sunni-led insurgents have continued their attacks targeting civilians, Iraqi officials and U.S. and Iraqi troops.
Car bombs, as well as other explosions and shootings, killed 34 people across the country Wednesday. In the deadliest attack, a string of two bombs and an explosive-packed vehicle blew up in a district of stores and auto shops in a mainly Christian neighborhood of Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 56, police said.
Hours later, after sunset and the end of the day's Ramadan fast, gunmen opened fire on a popular cafe in an overwhelmingly Shiite district of southeast Baghdad, killing four patrons and wounding seven others.
The conflict, now in its fourth year, has claimed the lives of more than 2,700 American troops and cost more than $300 billion.
There may also be a political cost for Rice's Republican Party. With less than five weeks left before congressional elections, new polls show Americans are increasingly unhappy with the war in Iraq and U.S. President George W. Bush's leadership.
Bush asserted last Friday that critics who claim the Iraq war has made America less safe embrace "the enemy's propaganda." He acknowledged setbacks in Afghanistan against a Taliban resurgence but predicted eventual victory.
"You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism," he told a receptive military audience. "If that ever becomes the mind-set of the policymakers in Washington, it means we'll go back to the old days of waiting to be attacked _ and then respond."
It was the latest in Bush's series of speeches defending his Iraq and anti-terrorism policies against heightened attacks from Democrats, who now are citing a government intelligence assessment to bolster their criticism.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate, parts of which Bush declassified last week, suggests the Iraq war has helped recruit more terrorists.
Iraqi authorities pulled a brigade of about 700 policemen out of service Wednesday in its biggest move ever to uproot troops linked to death squads, aiming to signal the government's seriousness in cleansing Baghdad of sectarian violence.
The government move came amid steadily mounting violence, particularly in the capital. A U.S. military spokesman said the past week had seen the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs in Baghdad this year.
The suspension of the police brigade was the first time the Iraqi government has taken such dramatic action to discipline security forces over possible links to militiamen, though some individual soldiers have been investigated in the past. Baghdad's Sunnis widely fear the Shiite-led police, saying they are infiltrated by militias and accusing them of cooperating with death squads who snatch Sunnis and kill them.
U.S. forces have been carrying out raids and arrests of militia members for the past month as part of a wide-scale U.S.-Iraqi sweep of Baghdad launched in August, which has seen the number of American troops in the capital double.
Forces have been moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, searching houses, confiscating weapons and arranging services like water and electricity for residents in an attempt to stop sectarian violence and insurgent attacks. A rise in U.S. deaths in recent days may be linked to their increased presence in the capital, commanders have said.


Updated : 2021-06-17 14:52 GMT+08:00