BAGHDAD (AP) – Prominent Shiite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including 60 who died Sunday in a surge of bombings and shootings around Baghdad.
The calls reflect growing frustration with the inability of Iraqi security forces to prevent extremist attacks.
The weekend deaths included two American soldiers – one killed Sunday in a suicide bombing on the western outskirts of Baghdad and another who died in combat Saturday in Salahuddin province north of the capital, the U.S. command said. Three soldiers were wounded in the Sunday blast.
Sunday’s deadliest attack occurred when a bomb struck a truckload of newly recruited Iraqi soldiers on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing 15 and wounding 20, a police official at the nearest police station said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Also Sunday, two car bombs exploded near simultaneously in Baghdad’s mostly Shiite Karradah district, killing eight people. The first detonated at 10:30 a.m. near a closed restaurant, destroying stalls and soft drink stands. Two passers-by were killed and eight wounded, a police official said.
About five minutes later, the second car exploded about a mile away near shops selling leather jackets and shoes. Six people were killed and seven wounded, said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The Karradah area includes the offices of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the biggest Shiite party in parliament, and is considered among the safest parts of the capital.
Elsewhere, a bomb hidden under a car detonated Sunday at the entrance of Shorja market – a mostly Shiite area of central Baghdad that has been hit repeatedly by insurgents – killing three civilians and wounding five, police said.
Police also reported they found the bodies of 29 men Sunday scattered across Baghdad – presumed victims of sectarian death squads. Four other people were killed Sunday in separate shootings in Baghdad, police said on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.
The string of attacks in the Iraqi capital showed that extremists can still unleash strikes in the city despite a relative lull in violence here in recent weeks amid the U.S. offensives in and around Baghdad.
But the bloodshed in the Baghdad area paled in comparison to the carnage Saturday when a truck bomb devastated the public market in Armili, a town north of the capital whose inhabitants are mostly Shiites from the Turkoman ethnic minority.
There was still confusion over the death toll.
Two police officers – Col. Sherzad Abdullah and Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin – said 150 people were killed. Other officials put the death toll at 115. Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkoman lawmaker, told reporters in Baghdad that 130 had died.
Regardless of the precise figure, the attack was clearly among the deadliest in Iraq in months. It reinforced suspicions that al-Qaida extremists were moving north to less protected regions beyond the U.S. security crackdown in Baghdad and on the capital’s northern doorstep.
In a joint statement, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus said the attack against the Turkoman Shiites was “another sad example of the nature of the enemy and their use of indiscriminate violence to kill innocent citizens.”
Turkish military air ambulances evacuated 21 people wounded in the attack for treatment in Turkish hospitals, the country’s Foreign Ministry said. Turkey feels special responsibility for its ethnic brethren, the Turkoman, who speak a Turkic language.
During a news conference Sunday in Baghdad, al-Bayati criticized the security situation in Armili, saying its police force had only 30 members and that the Interior Ministry had finally responded to requests for reinforcements only two days before the attack.
In the absence of enough security forces, al-Bayati said authorities should help residents “arm themselves” for their own protection.
The call for civilians to take up arms in their own defense was echoed Sunday by the country’s Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who said all Iraqis must “pay the price” for terrorism.
“People have a right to expect from the government and security agencies protection for their lives, land, honor and property,” al-Hashemi said in a statement. “But in the case of (their) inability, the people have no choice but to take up their own defense.”
He said the government should provide communities with money, weapons and training and “regulate their use by rules of behavior.”
Another prominent Sunni lawmaker, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had failed to provide services and security but he stopped short of saying his followers would seek to topple the Shiite-led government in a no-confidence vote.
The CBS Evening News reported Saturday that a large block of Sunni Iraqi politicians will ask for a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against al-Maliki’s government on July 15.
“The situation has become terribly bad,” al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. “All options are open for us. We are going to study the situation thoroughly, and we are going to look into the possible measures which go with the interests of the Iraqi people. We will also consider whether to keep on with the government or not.”
But Iraq’s national security adviser, a Shiite, insisted that the government still enjoyed broad support and he warned against any effort to replace al-Maliki.
“I can tell you one thing that after Maliki, there is going to be the hurricane in Iraq,” Mouwaffak al-Rubaie told CNN’s “Late Edition.” “This is an extremely important point to make across and to the Western audience and to the Arab audience as well as the larger Muslim audience.”
The idea of organizing local communities for their own defense has caught on here in recent months following the success of Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar province that took up arms to help drive al-Qaida from their towns and villages.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they hope to replicate the “Anbar model” elsewhere in the country, albeit under government supervision and control.
On Sunday, Lt. Gen. Ali Gheidan said the Iraqi army planned to raise volunteer forces in Diyala province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have driven al-Qaida fighters from part of the capital of Baqouba. He said more than 3,800 volunteers had already been recruited.
“Their mission will be like the police, working under the Iraqi police,” Gheidan told reporters. “They work as a protection for each area, and they will only be from the residents of that area. Their role is to hold onto territory after it has been cleansed by the military.”
U.S. commanders have long believed the key to restoring security was the ability of Iraqi forces to hold on to areas cleared by American troops. Several senior U.S. officers have questioned whether the Iraqi police and army were capable of preventing insurgents from returning once the Americans had left.
Local defense forces would offer a way to compensate for weaknesses in the Iraqi police and army, but without careful controls, the system could backfire by promoting more militias in a country already awash in weapons.
Also Sunday, the British Defense Ministry announced the death of a British soldier who was wounded Saturday in the biggest British offensive against Shiite militias this year.