Iraqi Sunni claims ‘genocide campaign’
BAGHDAD ” A sniper round felled a U.S. soldier in the tough Arab Jabour district south of Baghdad. His compatriots charged for a house where they thought the gunman was holed up.
One stepped on a buried, pressure-triggered bomb at the house. That soldier and three others died and four more were wounded in the blast.
The five soldiers were assigned to Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch’s Task Force Marne. He said the sophisticated attack that killed his forces Saturday was a new tactic and the work of al-Qaida in Iraq.
“As we surged, the enemy surged,” Lynch told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Sunday. “We do indeed make safety and security our first priority, but we are not going to stop taking the fight to the enemy.”
Lynch said al-Qaida in Iraq had operated freely in the area before his troops flooded the region as part of the six-month-old American drive to calm Baghdad and central Iraq.
With the deaths, at least 3,690 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Iraq’s most senior Sunni politician, meanwhile, issued a desperate appeal Sunday for Arab nations to help stop what he called an “unprecedented genocide campaign” by Shiite militias armed, trained and controlled by Iran.
Adnan al-Dulaimi said “Persians” and “Safawis,” Sunni terms for Iranian Shiites, were on the brink of total control in Baghdad and soon would threaten Sunni Arab regimes which predominate in the Mideast.
“It is a war that has started in Baghdad and they will not stop there but will expand it to all Arab lands,” al-Dulaimi said in an impassioned broadside e-mailed to AP.
Sunni Arab regimes throughout the Middle East fear the growing influence of Iran’s Shiite theocracy with radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as well as the Syrian regime. Raising the specter of Iranian power reaching the Arab doorstep, unlikely in the near-term, betrayed al-Dulaimi’s desperation.
But his fears of a Shiite takeover of Baghdad were not as farfetched. Mahdi Army militiamen have cleansed entire neighborhoods of Sunni residents and seized Sunni mosques. Day by day, hundreds have been killed and thousands have fled their homes, seeking safety in the shrinking number of majority Sunni districts.
Sunni extremists, many with al-Qaida links, are responsible too, mainly through massive bombings, often carried out by suicide attackers.
Like al-Dulaimi, the United States accuses Iran of providing the Shiite militia with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs, other weapons and training in Iran. Iran denies the allegations.
Al-Dulaimi resorted to the extremely harsh language a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, returned from his second visit to Tehran since taking power 14 months ago.
The outburst reflected growing anger in the Sunni establishment over perceptions of al-Maliki as a deeply biased sectarian leader with links to Iran.
“Arabs, your brothers in the land of the two rivers and in Baghdad in particular are exposed to an unprecedented genocide campaign by the militias and death squads that are directed, armed and supported by Iran,” al-Dulaimi said.
And he castigated fellow Sunnis in the Middle East, saying they “did not make any move and did not even bother to denounce what is taking place against your brothers at the hands of Iranian militias and death squads.”
The 75-year-old al-Dulaimi heads the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc in parliament. The coalition of parties pulled its six Cabinet ministers out of al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government Aug. 1.
Five days later, government ministers loyal to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, launched a boycott of Cabinet meetings. That left the government without any Sunni Arab members, except the defense minister who has no political affiliation.
Major political figures were expected to hold a rare summit with al-Maliki this week in Baghdad to wrestle with the government crisis.
At least 31 people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence nationwide, more than half of that number, 17, were tortured bodies discovered in Baghdad, police and morgue and hospital officials said.
At a news conference Sunday, al-Maliki defended his Iranian sojourn and said he would continue traveling to neighboring countries and asking for help to curb violence. He was expected to be in Syria next week, but the trip has not been announced.
“Iraq has turned into the center of terrorism. Iraq will only succeed through reconciliation,” he said.
But al-Dulaimi’s remarks focused not on reconciliation but on Arab nationalism and perceived Iranian threats.
“I call on all Arabs ” Muslims, presidents and kings and people ” to intervene and urge the Iraqi government to end this crisis. I call on them to stand beside Iraqis against violence and the oppression that come to us from Iran and its agents.”