As the toll of the Iraq war in U.S. soldiers' lives passed 1,700, AP reported that Iraqi deaths had "taken on ominous sectarian overtones with recurring tit-for-tat killings" -- a mainstream media euphemism for the burgeoning civil war in that country. -- On Sunday, "Gen. Rashid Flaiyeh, who runs all the Interior Ministry elite units including the Wolf Brigade, escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a mortar barrage rained down on his mother's funeral in northern Baghdad," AP noted -- the Wolf Brigade being a Shiite-led commando unit that, having been trained by the U.S., is now apparently being used to avenge Saddam-era crimes committed by Sunnis. -- On Sunday, Steven R. Weisman of the New York Times reported that in an effort to avert civil war (or in the preferred euphemism of the Times, "persuade Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his Shiite and Kurdish allies to be more inclusive"), the U.S. has undertaken an unpromising "campaign" to ask European countries to attempt to intervene with Iraqi government officials to "pressure the Baghdad government to include minorities [read: Sunnis] in the political process," and that this campaign "was taking several forms, from a surprise visit to Baghdad last week by top envoys of the European Union and Britain to a conference in Brussels on June 22 on Iraq, to be attended by envoys from 80 countries, the United Nations, the World Bank, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice." -- Weisman quoted an unnamed U.S. official who said, "There is a kind of radical, unrepentant core of Shiites in the government that thinks they've done plenty and don't need to do more." -- Weisman added three significant details indicating how dire the situation in Iraq has become: -- (a) the U.S. has despaired of asking the international community for new troop commitments, and the number of non-U.S. foreign troops continues to fall (it is now below 21,000); -- (b) only "about $1 billion" out of "the $13 billion pledged in the fall of 2003 by international donors" has been paid, apparently because the security situation makes it impossible effectively to spend such monies; -- (c) Arab countries consider themselves unable to send diplomatic representatives to Baghdad due to the level of insecurity there. -- In Monday's New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise reported that Sunnis were rejecting as inadequate an offer "to give Sunni Arabs 15 seats with full membership on the 55-member [constitutional] committee and 10 adviser positions": "'Arab Sunnis will not accept this number,' said Mejbel al-Sheik Isa, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group that has urged political involvement. 'Advisers? It's not our mission. When we say participation, we mean real participation. If we will not participate in the constitution,' he said, 'that means an increase of violence in Iraq.'" -- As the reality of civil war in Iraq dawns on U.S. politicians, some are rethinking their own positions, Tavernise reported: "An outspoken supporter of the war, Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, said in an interview Sunday on the ABC News program 'This Week' that he had changed his position, and he called for a fixed timetable for withdrawal of troops here." -- The fact that Walter Jones (R-NC 3) has been mentioned as a candidate for the Senate adds to the significance of his decision to turn against the war....
U.S. MILITARY TOLL IN IRAQ CROSSES 1,700
By Paul Garwood
June 12, 2005
BAGHDAD -- The military announced the killing of four more U.S. soldiers on Sunday, pushing the American death toll past 1,700, and police found the bullet-riddled bodies of 28 people -- many thought to be Sunni Arabs -- buried in shallow graves or dumped streetside in Baghdad.
The bodies were discovered as the Shiite-led government pressed to open disarmament talks with insurgents responsible for a relentless campaign of violence, which has taken on ominous sectarian overtones with recurring tit-for-tat killings.
A crackdown by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and offensives carried out by U.S. forces in western Iraq have had only had a temporary effect in blunting the cycle of carnage in which at least 940 people have died since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his government six weeks ago.
Al-Jaafari spokesman Laith Kuba said many militant groups were reaching out to the government, seeking a place in the political process. He urged them to lay down their arms.
Some insurgents are motivated to end their resistance, Kuba argued, by the election of an Iraqi government which put the American presence in the background, although its military is still 140,000 strong.
"Now is the right time for any group to lay down their weapons and take part in the (political) process," he said.
The offer did not include foreign extremists such as Jordanian-born al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi because "they only want to kill," Kuba said.
Four American soldiers died Saturday in two roadside bombings west of Baghdad, increasing the number of U.S. forces killed since the war began in March 2003 to at least 1,701.
Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bombings, including Saturday's attack inside Baghdad's heavily guarded Interior Ministry headquarters. That attack killed at least three people and targeted the feared Wolf Brigade, a Shiite-dominated commando unit that Sunnis claim is killing members of their community, including Muslim clerics.
On Sunday, Gen. Rashid Flaiyeh, who runs all the Interior Ministry elite units including the Wolf Brigade, escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a mortar barrage rained down on his mother's funeral in northern Baghdad. Eleven mourners were wounded, including two seriously, Lt. Ismael Abdul Sattar said. Flaiyeh is Interior Minister Bayan Jabr's security adviser.
Lt. Ayad Othman said a shepherd found the bodies of 20 men on Friday in the Nahrawan desert, 20 miles east of Baghdad.
"All were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs and shot from behind," Othman said. "The assassins excavated a hole and buried them inside it and seven were found naked."
Witnesses claimed the slain men were Sunnis, according to a statement from the influential Sunni organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars. No details were provided to support the claim, but the association said it had begun an investigation.
Eight other slain men were found shot in the head Sunday in two different locations in Baghdad's predominatly Shiite northern suburb of Shula, police Capt. Majed Abdul Aziz said. The bodies could not immediately be identified.
"The interior minister keeps saying security is getting better, but every day we hear of 20 bodies killed here and other 20 bodies found there," said Salih al-Mutlak, head of the prominent umbrella Sunni body, the National Dialogue Council.
The grisly discoveries were announced two days after 21 men were found slain Friday near Qaim, on the lawless Syrian frontier about 200 miles west of Baghdad.
It was feared the bodies may have been those of Iraqi soldiers who went missing Wednesday after leaving their base in Akashat, a remote village near Qaim, in a bus bound for Baghdad.
Last month, multiple batches of bodies turned up in various locations across Iraq. Many were killed in apparent revenge slayings that have raised fears Iraq was descending into sectarian civil war.
Despite the raging violence, there were several positive developments Sunday.
French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi assistant Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi were freed Saturday after five months in captivity.
Aubenas left Baghdad at noon Sunday on a French government plane in the middle of a sandstorm that had closed the capital's international airport for two days. Al-Saadi received a hero's welcome -- hugs and kisses from more than 60 relatives and friends at his southern Baghdad home. A band of trumpets played Arab tunes and a sheep was slaughtered to celebrate his homecoming.
On her return to France, the veteran reporter for the Libération newspaper said she had been held in an Iraq cellar in "difficult conditions," tied up and with little water. French officials said no ransom was paid.
In northern Iraq, the 111-member Kurdish Parliament unanimously elected veteran guerrilla leader Massoud Barzani to be the first president of Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, prompting horn-honking celebrations by supporters. Barzani was elected to a four-year term and will also lead the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, which numbers an estimated 100,000 members.
Some 2,000 soccer fans tried to ignore the violence and watched two of Iraq's elite teams play at Baghdad's biggest sports complex, the 50,000-capacity Shaab Stadium. It reopened to the public Sunday after it was commandeered two years ago for a U.S. military base.
Zawraa, an ancient name for Baghdad, beat Shurta, Arabic for police, 2-0 in a game that many spectators feared could be marred by a mortar attack or suicide bombing -- a regular occurrence in the capital.
"We were terrified at the beginning, but when the game started we had the chance to forget about the attacks, the bombs and the violence for a little while," said Shurta fan Ghazi Faisal, a police major. "For once there was some joy."
U.S. ASKS OTHERS TO PRESSURE IRAQ TO BE INCLUSIVE
By Steven R. Weisman
New York Times
June 12, 2005
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, seeking to close the continuing rift between Shiite and dissident Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq, is enlisting Europe, the Arab world and the United Nations to pressure the Baghdad government to include minorities in the political process, administration and other diplomats say.
The American effort has produced consensus among a broad spectrum of countries, including many that had opposed the 2003 invasion and have been reluctant to send troops or large donations.
These countries, which have joined in general United Nations resolutions supporting elections and the reconstruction of Iraq, are now said by American officials to be ready to go a step further by trying to persuade Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his Shiite and Kurdish allies to be more inclusive.
The administration officials and diplomats said the campaign was taking several forms, from a surprise visit to Baghdad last week by top envoys of the European Union and Britain to a conference in Brussels on June 22 on Iraq, to be attended by envoys from 80 countries, the United Nations, the World Bank, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Though the Baghdad government has taken some steps in reaching out to Sunni Arabs, the administration has found it hard to persuade it to do more while acting alone. In part, that is because the new government, confident in its popular mandate, is less open to American influence, and the United States, not wanting to be seen as manipulating Iraqi politics, has not wanted to press harder alone.
"The ostensible reason for the conference is for the international community to recognize the legitimacy of the newly elected Iraqi government," said an administration official, asking not to be identified because of the implicit criticism of the new government of Mr. Jaafari. "The other reason, less stated publicly, is to get the Iraq government to commit to steps so that it is not a narrowly based Shiite regime."
The administration official said that the Shiite leadership of the new government, which was elected at the end of January in balloting largely boycotted by Sunni Arabs, had made some headway in inviting Sunnis into the constitution-writing process, but that "Sunni dissatisfaction remains deep."
"There is a kind of radical, unrepentant core of Shiites in the government that thinks they've done plenty and don't need to do more," the official said.
The administration and its international allies have three main signals they want to send at the conference: making sure the political process reflects Iraq's political diversity, ensuring that the constitution protects minority rights and a separation of the state from religious law, and, finally, guaranteeing that Iraq maintains a federal system that prevents the Kurdish region and others from splitting off.
Administration, Western, Arab, and European diplomats speaking about the conference asked not to be identified because they did not want to be seen as pressuring Iraq. They said it was uncertain whether the conference would achieve any immediate result in terms of Iraq's politics, but that bringing together a broad group of nations, including some that had declined to join the war or send peacekeeping troops, would send a positive message to Baghdad.
"The idea is to take another step forward in the creation of a new Iraq," said a second administration official. "Having the French, the Germans, the Russians, and the United States sitting together and underscoring a common vision for Iraq will be a significant event, even at this point. But what happens is not up to us. It's up to the Iraqis."
European, Arab, and United Nations diplomats said in interviews that they supported the administration's goal of making the Iraqi government more inclusive and that they would work to press for further steps and for a process of producing a constitution with guarantees for minorities, in their own contacts with Iraq, and at Brussels.
"We cannot be seen as telling the government in Baghdad what to do," said an Arab diplomat, asking not to be identified because he did not want to be seen as insulting the Iraqis. "But we can tell them what they need to gain international legitimacy."
A European diplomat said: "The constitution has to be put together by the Iraqis. But people in the international community have to make clear that we're following what they do very closely, and that all segments of Iraqi society must participate and that United Nations Security Council resolutions have to be respected."
The diplomat was referring to the goal set by the Security Council to complete the constitution-writing process by August and hold a referendum and elect a new government by early next year.
A Western diplomat with extensive contacts in Iraq said the new Iraqi government was not as amenable to pressure as the Iraqi Governing Council, its predecessor. The council members were put in place by the American-led occupation administration, chosen mainly from among exile leaders.
"This is not an American puppet government anymore," said the diplomat. "It's standing up to the United States because it feels it has been elected and has legitimacy."
The first administration official said, "Despite the rhetoric and the to-ing and fro-ing in Washington, people in Washington are getting more worked up over Iraq as their influence on the ground becomes less and less."
American officials say the Brussels conference will not be aimed at new aid pledges from the international community or new troop commitments. The number of foreign troops in Iraq has dipped to 21,000, and of the $13 billion pledged in the fall of 2003 by international donors, only a fraction has been delivered.
For example, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund set up two separate entities for contributions by donor countries, but only about $1 billion has gone into the funds so far. A major reason for the lag in donations is the security situation, which is also a main reason why only $7.5 billion of nearly $19 billion appropriated by the United States for reconstruction of Iraq two years ago has been spent.
The political pressure is expected to be exerted in the conference most acutely when Iraqi envoys join with a session on Iraq's political future to be led jointly by Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations and a senior Egyptian envoy, most likely Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit. A session on economic reconstruction is to be led by envoys of the European Union and Japan, and a session on "rule of law and public order" is to be led by Ms. Rice and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief.
Another element of the conference, administration officials said, would probably involve pressure by the Bush administration on Arab countries to upgrade their diplomatic representation in Baghdad.
Arab countries say, however, that the only obstacle to sending such missions is security. A month ago, King Abdullah II of Jordan said the country would send an ambassador as soon as one could be protected.
SUNNI-SHIITE QUARREL EDGES CLOSER TO POLITICAL STALEMATE
By Sabrina Tavernise
New York Times
June 13, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Iraq moved further toward a political stalemate on Sunday, after Shiite political leaders agreed on what they said was a compromise to include Sunni Arabs in the writing of a constitution. Sunni representatives rejected the offer.
In an attempt to defuse a political confrontation with this country's embittered Sunni Arabs, the Shiite-led constitutional committee of the Iraqi Parliament met for several hours on Sunday and decided to give Sunni Arabs 15 seats with full membership on the 55-member committee and 10 adviser positions. The Sunnis have insisted on at least 25 seats.
Sunni Arabs, about a fifth of Iraq's population, are thinly represented in Parliament because many refused to vote in national elections in January. American officials have been pressing Shiite and Kurdish leaders to give Sunni Arabs a greater role in politics.
"I think they will accept because we are offering everything for them," said Bahaa al-Aaraji, a Shiite political leader who is a senior member of the committee.
But two Sunni political leaders interviewed by telephone shortly after the decision said bluntly that it would be rejected by the majority of Sunni Arabs, whose fringes, which include former Baath Party members and militant Islamists, drive the radical insurgency here.
"Arab Sunnis will not accept this number," said Mejbel al-Sheik Isa, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group that has urged political involvement. "Advisers? It's not our mission. When we say participation, we mean real participation."
"If we will not participate in the constitution," he said, "that means an increase of violence in Iraq."
Even before the political setback on Sunday, insurgent-driven violence took more lives. On Sunday, the American military announced the deaths of four marines, all killed by roadside bombs on Saturday. They were killed in two different vehicle accidents in Anbar Province, a Sunni Arab region that strongly supports the insurgency.
And in another discovery of corpses, an official in the Interior Ministry said that the Iraqi police had found 20 decomposed bodies in Nahrawan, an area south of Baghdad. The bodies were buried in a field that had been used for shooting practice by the old Iraqi Army.
In a familiar scene, the bodies bore signs of torture. They were dressed in plain clothes and appeared to have been killed four or five months ago, the official said. The police were not yet able to identify the bodies.
Authorities found bodies at two other sites as well. In Huriya, a Shiite area in northwestern Baghdad, three bodies were found shot in a 1984 Toyota, and later on Sunday, three more were found in eastern Baghdad, in an area close to a Shiite slum.
Though the constitutional committee members met Sunday to discuss seats for Sunni Arabs, they will not formally make the offer until their next meeting with them, scheduled for Thursday, delaying any formal acceptance or rejection of the offer for nearly a week.
The committee is under pressure to complete a draft of the constitution by Aug. 15, so the country can vote on it in October and hold new elections in December. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq's prime minister, said recently that the deadlines would not be extended.
One of the reasons an agreement has been difficult to reach is that Iraq's Sunni Arabs are a disparate and sometimes competing minority. In the last meeting, committee members said each Sunni group came with different lists of names, making for unwieldy negotiations. And within the groups themselves, hard-liners refuse to agree to what more moderate Sunni Arabs accept.
Tarik al-Hashimy, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, another Sunni party, said in a telephone interview that the less flexible Sunni Arabs in the parties would reject Sunday's proposal, ruining its chances for success.
"We have enough hard-liners," he said, adding that "we have enough problems convincing them to accept the figure of 25 seats."
Even so, some among the Sunni insurgents have recently struck a conciliatory tone, seeking an audience with the government, said Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Mr. Jaafari. "Many of these groups contact us directly and say, 'We did not kill Iraqis, and we want to participate in the political process.' " he said.
Meanwhile, an outspoken supporter of the war, Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, said in an interview Sunday on the ABC News program "This Week" that he had changed his position, and he called for a fixed timetable for withdrawal of troops here.
The remarks came two weeks after military commanders told a Congressional delegation visiting Iraq that it would take about two years before enough Iraqi security forces were sufficiently trained to allow the Pentagon to withdraw large numbers of American troops.