The Washington Post is studiously avoiding the term "civil war," which has already been embraced by London's Financial Times on Aug. 8 and the Christian Science Monitor on Aug. 22, but which is still resisted by quasi-official media organs of the U.S. national security state like the New York Times and the Post.  --  The Post prefers euphemisms like "sectarian violence" or "sectarian tensions," less likely to frighten U.S. public opinion or to wrinkle the brows of Bush administration officials.  --  That's too bad, since the Post's reporting is in general praiseworthy, particularly on Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army....


Middle East


By Ellen Knickmeyer, Jonathan Finer, and Saad Sarhan

** Fighters Believed to Be From Saddam Hussein's Former Regime Kill Dozens **

Washington Post
August 25, 2005

BAGHDAD -- Fighters believed to be members of Saddam Hussein's former regime killed 13 Iraqi police, 27 civilians, and an American security-force member in a concerted attack in a west Baghdad neighborhood, first luring police within range by slaughtering five members of an Iraqi household, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Thursday.

The Baghdad attack, in which witnesses said up to 40 masked insurgents armed with grenade-launchers and AK-47 assault rifles openly walked the streets, came late Wednesday, as political violence and sectarian tensions flared across Iraq on the eve of a decision on Iraq's new constitution.

Two days of sudden clashes between government-allied Shiite fighters and a rival Shiite militia subsided in the south of Iraq by midday Thursday, after appeals for calm by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Jafari, said the constitution itself would be submitted to the National Assembly on Thursday in its final form, after three days of final negotiations spurred largely by objections from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

"The assembly will then rubber-stamp it" with a vote no later than Sunday, Kubba said, making clear the extent to which faction leaders, rather than parliament members or parliament's constitutional committee, are deciding the charter.

Iraqis then will vote in a referendum to ratify the constitution on Oct. 15. Political leaders' negotiations on the charter had gone as far as far as they could, Kubba said. "They've just exhausted it -- they've spent hours debating this," he said.

The main disputes have been over federalism. A federal system called for in the constitution -- as demanded by members of the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish ethnic minority -- would formalize the self-rule of the Kurdish north and allow the Shiite south and any other areas to also create their own federal regions. Sunni Arabs and followers Sadr, the Shiite cleric, and key figure in the Shiite clashes, largely oppose federalism.

Kubba linked both the Sunni Arab insurgent attack in Baghad and the Shiite-on-Shiite violence in the south to the constitution, saying disputes over the charter had aggravated tensions in the south.

The Baghdad attack, Kubba said, was a "stage-managed operation" meant to overshadow progress on the constitution. "They wanted the writing on the wall, that they are still there."

The Baghdad attack opened with insurgents killing five people inside a west Baghdad home, according to Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman.

When police responded to the scene, insurgents attacked them with a series of car bombs, Lynch said.

Residents reported hours of explosions and gunfire.

In the south, fighting among rival Shiite forces eased Thursday, after spreading to central Iraq earlier in the day. The easing of tensions came after Sadr directed his followers to lay down their AK-47s.

"I call upon all the believers to save the blood of the Muslims and to return to their homes," Sadr told reporters at his home in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Some 3,000 followers surrounded Sadr's house as he spoke, many of them armed with grenade-launchers and automatic rifles. They vowed to defend him.

The clashes broke out Wednesday when Sadr's offices in Najaf were attacked and burned by rival groups.

The fighting, which quickly spread to other urban centers in south-central Iraq, underscored the deep rifts within the Shiite community, which accounts for 60 percent of the population and claimed the biggest share of parliamentary seats in the Jan. 30 elections that were largely boycotted by Sunni Muslims. The fighting pits followers of Sadr against the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that won a leading role in government in the January vote.

While militias are illegal under Iraq's interim constitution, Shiite and Kurdish factions still command thousands of fighters loyal to them.

The southern city of Basra also was calmer Thursday following Sadr's appeal, after street battles with mortars, grenade-launchers, and automatic rifles a day earlier between Sadr's followers and those of the Badr organization. At least one policeman and one Sadr follower were reported killed there in fighting early Wednesday; there was no figure on casualties later in the day.

In Baqubah, Sadr's black-clad forces fought with those of the Supreme Council on Thursday, said Ahmed Karim, spokesman for the joint coordination center for Iraqi and U.S. forces there.

Baqubah police officers said four Sadr fighters were killed in clashes in which Sadr's followers fought members of the Iraqi army, police and U.S. forces.

American military spokesmen in Baghdad said they had no immediate information on those clashes.

Karim said U.S. helicopters were patrolling over the city and that American forces had made an unspecified number of arrests. Baqubah's people took shelter inside their homes. Sunni mosques in the city blared messages calling on Sadr's forces "to continue fighting those who want to divide Iraq," Karim said.

Eight miles north of Baqubah, gunmen opened fire on five men believed to be fighters of the Supreme Council's Badr organization, killing five of them, Karim claimed. At least seven people died in Wednesday's clashes.

"I will not forget this attack on the office . . . but Iraq is passing through a critical and difficult period that requires unity," Sadr said.

Sadr also called on Abdul-Aziz Hakim, leader of the rival Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to condemn "what his followers have done." The Supreme Council is now the leading party in Iraq's Shiite-led interim government.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari appeared on state television shortly after midnight to condemn the violence.

"Peace must reign," said Jafari, a member of another Shiite party in the governing coalition. "This language of violence cannot be permitted in the new Iraq."

--Sarhan reported from Najaf.