President of Iraq pleads for end to civilian killings

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – President Jalal Talabani urged Iraq’s feuding factions Wednesday to unite against surging crime and terrorism, as attacks raged across the country.

Talabani said nearly 1,091 people were killed in Baghdad alone last month, and his office said the figure came from the Baghdad Central Morgue.

However, Dr. Riyadh Abdul Amer of the death registration office of the Ministry of Health, said his office misinterpreted the president’s request and gave the figure for all deaths in the Baghdad area for the month of April including natural causes. According to the health ministry, 762 people were killed as a result of terrorist activity in April: 686 civilians, 54 police and 22 members of the Iraqi army.

On Wednesday, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Iraqi civilians to work, then planted a bomb aboard the vehicle that exploded when rescue workers arrived. In all, 11 Iraqis were killed and six wounded in the attack near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Elsewhere, 13 Iraqis were killed in other attacks, including four off-duty policemen in Ramadi, officials said.

Casualties from a suicide truck bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar on Tuesday night rose to 22 dead and 134 wounded. The U.S. military flew some of the wounded to other cities when the local hospital was overwhelmed.

“We feel shock, dismay and anger over the daily reports of the discovery of unidentified corpses and those of others killed” around the capital, said Talabani, a Kurd.

“If we add this to the number of corpses that are not discovered, or to similar crimes in other provinces, then the total number … reflects that we are confronting a situation no less dangerous than the results of terrorist acts” such as car bombings and other attacks.

Scores of unidentified bodies turn up around the capital on a daily basis, many bound, tortured and shot execution style in what officials say is an unwavering tide of reprisal sectarian killings.

At least 3,525 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence this year. These numbers include civilians, government officials, and police and security officials, and are considered only a minimum based on Associated Press reporting.

Sunni Arabs, who form the minority in the country but were once the power brokers under Saddam Hussein, say they are being targeted by so-called Shiite death squads operating either from within the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, or with the ministry’s tacit approval.

Shiites say thousands of their community have had to flee their homes to escape threats by Sunni extremists.

Leadership of the Interior Ministry – a key to securing the country against the steadily escalating wave of violence – has been a main stumbling block in the formation of the new national unity government.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has said the interior and defense portfolios will be filled by independents unaffiliated with individual parties or militias.

But many lawmakers say that the next interior minister will likely be a Shiite, and several have floated the name of the current minister, Bayan Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Saying that behind every unidentified corpse is “an orphan, a starving father or a grieving wife,” Talabani warned that these daily abductions and murders are stoking a “climate of suspicion among the sons of the nation.”

He said terrorists are capitalizing on the weakness of government institutions and stressed that the formation of the new government will help create a climate in which such attacks can be halted. But Talabani also called on all factions “to issue a fatwa (religious edict) condemning these crimes, irrespective of who perpetrated them.”

Wednesday’s worst attack occurred about 9 a.m. near Baqouba.

Suspected insurgents stopped a bus carrying employees of the state-run Diyala Electronics Co., which makes products such as televisions. After ordering women off the bus, insurgents shot and killed the men inside, said company spokesman Adnan Hamad. When the gunmen left, another company bus stopped and rushed to rescue the wounded. When rescuers opened the door, a bomb the insurgents had planted there exploded, he said.

The final death toll was 11 killed and six wounded, said Hamad.

In Baghdad, suspected insurgents riding in two BMWs assassinated a Defense Ministry press office employee as he drove to work at about 8:15 a.m., police said.

One of the BMWs stopped to block the car of Mohammed Musab Talal al-Amari, a Shiite, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein. Three men got out of the other BMW and opened fire in the residential neighborhood of Bayaa, killing al-Amari and wounding an Iraqi pedestrian, Hussein said.

The Defense Ministry controls Iraq’s military.

In two other shootings in Baghdad, suspected insurgents killed a Shiite taxi driver and a Shiite who once belonged to Iraq’s disbanded Baath party, police said. A similar attack killed a civilian driver about 80 miles south of the capital, said police.

In other violence reported by police:

-The bodies of two Iraqis who had been handcuffed and shot were found in eastern Baghdad.

-Gunmen in two cars killed two traffic policemen in western Baghdad.

-In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, two roadside bombs targeting two American convoys, missed their targets but killed one civilian and wounded three.

-An ambush by insurgents killed four off-duty policemen in Ramadi on Tuesday, apparently as they were leaving work. Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is located in Anbar province, where many Sunni-led insurgent groups are based.

Also Wednesday, American and Iraqi forces were searching for five people who escaped from a U.S. detention center in northern Iraq, the U.S. command.

The detainees escaped early Tuesday from the Fort Suse Theater facility near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, said U.S. Spc. Stacy Sanning, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Baghdad.

U.S. Col. David Gray, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, said three of the escapees were Arabs and a fourth was an Iraqi Kurd. The nationality of the fifth was not immediately known.

The suicide attack in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, occurred at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday as shoppers hurried to complete purchases before closing, police said. Lt. Col. Ali Rasheed of the Interior Ministry said the main target of the bombing may have been a police station within the market area.

“We were manning a checkpoint when a truck full of flour sacks passed us and ignored our orders to stop, so I shot at the truck and seconds later it exploded, throwing me to the ground,” policeman Arakan Youssif said in an interview Wednesday.

The director of the city hospital, Saleh Qado, said 22 people were killed and 70 wounded, but the U.S. command said 134 Iraqis were injured, at least 24 of them critically. As casualties mounted at the local hospital, many of the wounded were driven to nearby coalition medical facilities or flown to ones in the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, the military said.

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