BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The political wrangling of Iraq’s infant government can seem futile in the face of relentless violence. But Iraqi lawmakers say politics is their best hope to prevent civil war and send foreign troops home – and on that front, they claimed a victory Thursday.

Now, though, they are left with just two months to draft a constitution. Work on the charter continues daily in a meeting room inside Baghdad’s most heavily fortified area.

The U.S. military reported five Marines and a sailor were killed Wednesday, and a suicide car bomber rammed into a truck in the capital, killing at least eight police officers and wounding 25 others.

After weeks of back-and-forth, Shiite politicians succeeded at devising a compromise to include Sunni Arabs in drafting Iraq’s new constitution. The stalemate over who should be allowed to draft the constitution had threatened Iraq’s political process as it was entering its final stretch, with two key nationwide votes planned for later this year – a constitutional referendum in October and a general election in December.

The agreement was reached between the Shiite-led government and the leaders of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority. Sunni Arabs are thought to form the backbone of the insurgency.

The constitutional process and attempts to open channels with some militant groups not tied to extremists are touted by the United States and Iraq’s government as a way to help defuse the insurgency.

“Those who are terrorists, those who are al-Qaida and (Jordanian-born terrorist leader Abu-Musab) al-Zarqawi, and those who are Saddam elements, we have (nothing to) say to them,” Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Thursday.

In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, dozens of hooded insurgents surrounded a downtown mosque to prevent a meeting of local politicians and tribal leaders on the country’s new charter and reconciliation efforts.

“We told them to leave Iraq’s issues for us, we are the only ones who can liberate Iraq by fighting infidels and not by holding conferences. And instead of spending money for this conference, they have to give it to us to buy weapons to help our fighting against the Americans,” a masked man told Iraqi reporters outside the empty mosque.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Alston took aim at al-Zarqawi, saying the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq is most responsible for the nearly 1,100 violent deaths since the Shiite-led government took office seven weeks ago.

“With Zarqawi’s push recently, we certainly see the fantastic rise in the number of civilians killed, given that he has proclaimed that taking out civilians is an acceptable thing,” said Alston, spokesman for the U.S.-led international military force in Iraq.

Last month, an audiotape said to be from al-Zarqawi denounced the country’s majority Shiites as collaborators with the Americans and said it was justified for Muslims to kill such people even if they are Muslims.

Alston’s focus on al-Zarqawi, whose small group is blamed for many of the bloodiest attacks and hostage takings in Iraq, apparently was aimed at reinforcing growing dissatisfaction among Iraqis over insurgents targeting civilians. He said that anger has brought an increase in calls to tip lines.

“We are getting reports that cells in his network are concerned about the consequences of this behavior and a consequence of what it has done to the Iraqi people,” Alston said. “The Iraqi people are increasingly exposing the insurgency. This is not a popular insurgency.”

He said tips to Iraqi authorities resulted in Tuesday’s arrest of Mohammed Khalaf, also known as Abu Talha, who was al-Qaida’s leader in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

“This is a major defeat for the al-Qaida terrorist organization in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi’s leader in Mosul is out of business,” Alston said.

Martinez, 37, a supply specialist with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 42nd Infantry Division, a New York-based National Guard unit, is facing two counts of premeditated murder, according to a statement from Multi-National Corps, Iraq.

He was being held at a military jail in Kuwait and has been assigned a military attorney and has the option of hiring a civilian lawyer, the statement said.

The suicide bomber plowed his black sedan at high speed into a truck carrying police officers from checkpoint to checkpoint on the road connecting Baghdad with its airport. The officers were part of an evening replacement shift, said police Maj. Moussa Abdul Karim and medic Najam Abid of the al-Yarmouk hospital.

The Marines died Wednesday after their vehicle was attacked near Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. A sailor attached to the Marines’ unit, the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed Wednesday in Ramadi by gunfire, the military said.

In other developments:

-Judge Salim Mahmoud al-Haj Alia and his bodyguard were killed by gunmen in eastern Mosul. The al-Qaida-affiliated Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility in an Internet posting.

-A roadside bomb in Mosul killed an Iraqi police officer, officials said.

-Police found the bodies of 11 people in two towns in the so-called Triangle of Death, an official said.


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