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  • BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped 17 people from a Baghdad apartment building on Wednesday, Interior Ministry sources said.

    They said the kidnappers abducted 10 men, five women and two children from different families.

    Militants, insurgents and criminal gangs all carry out kidnappings in Iraq, which has witnessed a sharp rise in sectarian violence that has raised fears of all-out civil war.

    Many victims of abductions are killed.

    Gunmen kidnap 17 people in Baghdad

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    • The morgue is several blocks away, but the stench of rotting flesh wafts through the streets of the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Bab Al-Muadham. The odor is so powerful that doctors, police and cleaning workers cover their mouths and noses as they walk through the halls of the one-story building, struggling to avoid slipping on the black, oily film that covers the floors. Visitors who come in search of missing family members carry burning paper in hopes of masking the smell. Employees dump fresh cadavers — some of them headless — into the refrigeration units just off the main hallway.

      Each refrigerator holds about 25 bodies, and they’re fully stocked; leftover corpses, and even some solitary limbs, pile up nearby. Morgue staff go about their business among swarms of black flies. It’s just another day in Baghdad, and their unpleasant work pays the bills. Privately, they admit that working in the morgue takes its toll. “It’s a really bad job,” says 46-year-old Fadhil, who has been employed as a cleaner at the morgue for a decade. “It’s turned us into other creatures.”

      With sectarian violence showing no signs of abating, Baghdad’s main morgue has become a busy place. While Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki is in Washington discussing security options with President George W. Bush, armed Shiite and Sunni groups continue to wage war in the heart of Iraq —often killing members of the opposite sect just for showing the “wrong” identity card at a checkpoint. Many of them end up at the morgue in Bab Al-Muadham. Back before the U.S.-led Coalition invaded, the morgue typically received 10 bodies a day; now, on some days the staff see 150 new arrivals. More than 1,000 bodies have arrived each month of this year; June’s tally was 1,595.

      Civilian deaths in Iraq have been a contentious point since Day One of Operation Iraqi Freedom (sic). Anti-war activists and opposition politicians often cite estimates of 100,000 civilian deaths said to have resulted from the invasion and the subsequent violence. A recent United Nations report calculated that 6,000 civilians died in the violence in May and June alone. The morgue is at the heart of that debate, because whoever controls the morgue controls the numbers. That person is radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. One day last week, a NEWSWEEK reporter saw more than a dozen militiamen, dressed in the traditional black of Sadr’s army, patrolling the facilities, keeping an eye on the staff. According to morgue employees, Sadr’s Mahdi militiamen aim to control the flow of information to give Sadr a leg up in the propaganda war. Ministry of Health officials release statistics from time to time. Last week, a ministry official told NEWSWEEK that the last few weeks have seen a 30 percent rise in victims, many of them found in the garbage or floating down the Tigris — but they rarely reveal details about the nature of the deaths, or the identities of the corpses. Sadr’s political wing also controls the Health Ministry, and he has good reason to keep such details hidden: they could incriminate Shiite militias.

      An overwhelming majority of the delivered dead are young Sunni men, according to morgue employees. They appear to be the victims of Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army. In recent weeks, a large number of victims have arrived at the morgue with their hands and feet bound together and their eyes and mouths sealed shut with tape, according to several doctors at the morgue interviewed by NEWSWEEK. Their jugular veins or wrists had been slit, leaving the victims to die slowly. This technique, known as “the Khomeini guards method,” was used on Iraqi soldiers during the war with Iran, according to a Sunni doctor who works with the morgue. (He and other sources in this report could not be identified for safety reasons.) Given the Mahdi Army’s close links with Tehran, morgue employees have little doubt about why Sadrist politicians and officials would want to bury such details. “The Iraqi Shiite government accuses the [Sunni] resistance groups of committing of such acts,” says the Sunni doctor. “But all Iraqis know that [it’s] the Mahdi Army.”

      Although the Ministry of health officially denies any Mahdi army involvement in the running of the morgue, employees cite occasions when militia members on the premises have ordered them not to refrigerate certain unidentified bodies - those with beards, for instance, because they might be despised Sunni imams. Worse still, they also say that militia members have on occasion taken mobile phones from the clothes of the dead, and called their relatives to inform them of the victim’s status. When the relatives came to identify the body, the employees say, the militia followed them offsite and killed them too.

      With the bodies in Bab Al-Muadham steadily mounting, Maliki and Bush will have to come up with practical solutions to quell the violence, lest they appear out of touch with the daily reality of Iraq. At the morgue, a radio blares an upbeat pop tune by Lebanese star Nanci Ajram.

      The morgue’s receptionist sits with a few other workers eating sandwiches, flies buzzing between them and the nearby cadavers. “We have to be patient,” says the receptionist. If the morgue’s intake continues at the current rate, Iraqis may find that increasingly difficult.

      Counting corpses

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      • Two brothers serving in Iraq's police forces were killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle as they returned to their home in southeastern Baghdad, police said.

        Elsewhere in the capital, gunmen abducted the Interior Ministry's residence director, Brig. Abdullah Humoud, as he rode in an unmarked car. It was not clear who seized him, police said.

        Police also reported several bombings around Iraq that injured a handful of people.

        U.S. and Iraqi forces are attempting to quell rising sectarian tensions that have led to the deaths of hundreds in recent weeks.

        Seeking to escape that violence, about 2,480 families - or 14,900 people - have fled Baghdad's Dora, Jihad and Abu Ghraib neighborhoods for Wasit province, according to immigration and displacement officials in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

        The escalating violence comes as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki prepares to address Congress on Wednesday in Washington, where he has gone to shore up the U.S. military commitment in Iraq.

        Roadside bomb leaves brothers dead; thousands flee capital city amid violence

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        • BAGHDAD (AFP) - Somewhere around the fourth car bomb attack against their checkpoint, the Iraqi army soldiers pulled out of their position on a once busy commercial thoroughfare in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.

          Now they "guard" the debris-littered street, complete with the burned-out carcasses of three car bombs, from the safety of nearby buildings.

          On Tuesday, US President George W. Bush announced that more US troops are being moved into Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods to back up their embattled local allies.

          On the ground, Iraqi security forces appear under-equipped and unable to shoulder the security burden in the restive west of the capital.

          In these leafy, once prosperous neighborhoods of Baghdad, US forces are reworking their security policy to salvage the six-week-old Operation Forward Together, a security plan that has thus far failed to stop insurgents or sectarian violence.

          "The new strategy is to concentrate more troops on smaller areas, work closer with the Iraqi security forces, and really put a lot of emphasis on certain trouble spots," Major Scott Coulson, an intelligence officer for the 8th Squadron of the 10th Cavalry stationed in western Baghdad, told AFP.

          On Monday, coalition spokesman Major General William Caldwell said that "Iraqi security forces again took the lead in the neighborhoods... to make their capital safe."

          In reality, however, the beefing up of the US presence and the continuing spiral of violence is an indication that Iraqi security forces have not been able to handle the situation.

          "In the beginning we saw many Iraqi patrols, even with tanks, moving through the neighborhood," said a resident of a Amiriyah, a formerly prosperous area that is a main focus of insurgent activity.

          "But then, after a few days, the number of patrols dropped," he said on condition of anonymity, adding that the violence and shooting has been much worse in the past weeks.

          Iraqi forces should be better at maintaining security in these neighborhoods having more familiarity with the people and the ability to speak the language, but according to US officers, they have not been getting out onto the streets.

          "The level of patrols initially was supposed to be have increased but the logistics has not supported it," said Coulson, explaining that the units do not receive sufficient fuel, parts, supplies and body armor to keep up patrolling and prefer to hunker down at checkpoints.

          It was a similar lack of support from the center that required US forces to come back into Amiriyah in April, after turning it over to the local Iraqi army unit in December.

          "There are some checkpoints on the main streets, sometimes they are manned, sometimes they aren't," said Sergeant Coy Greer, of the 8th Squadron's Apache Troop, during a patrol through the barricade-filled streets of Amiriyah.

          "They don't patrol as aggressively as the Americans do, but we can't hold their hands forever," he said. "They have to get out and do it themselves."

          For now, however, the Iraqi forces need encouragement, and US forces are conducting joint patrols with the Iraqi army units and national police forces stationed in the various neighborhoods.

          The reluctance of Iraqi forces to patrol, however, also stems from the inadequacy of their equipment in the face of roadside bombs.

          At an Iraqi army base near the airport, a patrol formed up to go out with the Americans and soldiers piled into flat bed pickup trucks with some crude metal sheets welded on the sides.

          Nearby a row of a brand new armored humvees - the general-purpose all terrain transports used by US forces - stood unused.

          "The humvees are for emergency cases," said Master Sergeant Osama Abed Ali, a patrol leader from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army division, responsible for Amiriyah. "The operations officer doesn't allow us to take them out." It was something he and his man were not happy about.

          Two days later, over in the nearby Khadra district, the 8th Squadron's Charlie Troop got ready to patrol with an Iraqi national police unit responsible for the area.

          The US sergeant commanding the joint patrol carefully placed the police SUVs and their makeshift armor plated SUVs in the center of the convoy.

          "They are a softer target vehicle than us, they need all the protection they can get," said Staff Sergeant Michael Emery. "Also they don't scan for IEDs that well."

          Lieutenant Hussein Ali Mahmud of the national police said he preferred patrolling with the Americans because there was greater security for his men.

          "They can detect roadside bombs better than we can, they have devices to see them and they have better armor on their vehicles."

          Iraqi forces ill-equipped for west Baghdad battlefields

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          • British forces escaped injury during an attack on an armoured vehicle in Iraq Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London said.

            An MoD spokesman said the vehicle came under rocket-propelled grenade fire in an exchange in Maysan Province but the device did not detonate and the UK forces returned fire.

            The spokesman added that there had been no British casualties and it was not initially known whether any Iraqis were killed or injured. No further details were immediately available.

            The number of British service personnel killed in Iraq stands at 114. Many hundreds more have been injured. Britain currently contributes around 7,500 troops to the multinational force, mainly stationed in southern Iraq.

            British soldiers attacked in Iraq

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            • Baghdad.– A thinner but combative Saddam Hussein returned to court Wednesday for the first time since his hunger strike and hospitalization, complaining he had been forced to attend the proceedings and asking to be executed by firing squad if the court sentences him to death.

              "I was brought against my will directly from the hospital," Saddam told the chief judge. "The Americans insisted that I come against my will. This is not fair."

              He asked the court to execute him by firing squad – "not by hanging as a common criminal" – if it convicts him of all charges and sentences him to death.

              "I ask you being an Iraqi person that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad," he said.

              Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman reminded Saddam that the trial was still under way and that the court had not reached a verdict. Executions in Iraq are normally by hanging.

              Saddam and seven co-defendants have been on trial since Oct. 19 in the killing and torture of Shiites in Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him there. The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Saddam and two of the seven others.

              As the session began Wednesday, the ousted president was allowed to make a statement, beginning with a verse from the Quran, in which he challenged the validity and impartiality of the court. He then repeated a theme he has voiced since the start of the trial – that the panel is an illegal instrument of the American occupation.

              Saddam Hussein: If I'm convicted shoot me

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              • Two American servicemen killed in Iraq

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                • U.S. sailor dies in Iraq

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                  • NAHRAWAN - Gunmen shot at a police convoy in Nahrawan, 15 km south of Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding four others, police said.

                    KERBALA - Gunmen on a motorcycle sprayed three men with bullets at a wedding ceremony in central Kerbala, 110 km (68 miles) southwest of Baghdad, a medical source said.

                    KIRKUK - Seven people were wounded when a car bomb exploded near a gas station in central Kirkuk, police said.

                    MOSUL - A policeman was wounded when a roadside bomb went off targeting his patrol in the city of Mosul 390 km north of Baghdad, police sources said.

                    MOSUL - Gunmen killed a policeman in Mosul, police said.

                    MOSUL - The body of a man who was kidnapped and killed despite a ransom being paid was found on a street in Mosul.

                    DIWANIYA - Gunmen killed a civilian in central Diwaniya in front of his shop in the town 180 km south of Baghdad.

                    NEAR BALAD - An insurgent was killed and three others were detained in a raid by the combined security forces in Balad, 80 km north of Baghdad, the Iraqi government said.

                    BAQUBA - Gunmen attacked a police patrol, killing a policeman and wounding another, and also killed a civilian, in the city of Baquba 65 km north of Baghdad. Police said they had detained three suspects.

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                    • Senior police officer killed in Iraq

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                      • Seven injured by bomb in eastern Baghdad, five found dead in Diyala Province

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                        • Iraqis have been brutalized not only by bombs and bullets; they've also been the victims of economic violence in the form of the free market "shock therapy" cooked up by a firm in Virginia on a $250 million no-bid contract before the U.S. invasion. Tranforming Iraq's economy overnight was a matter of ideology trumping commonsense, and it's killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and shattered a way of life for hundreds of thousands more.

                          That the radical restructuring of Iraq's political economy has received so little critical attention - even as Iraq's nascent government threatens to crash and burn - is a testament to how deeply indoctrinated we are - especially our media - in the narrative of what "American-style" capitalism is. It was taken as a given that after knocking off Saddam, we'd rapidly privatize huge swaths of Iraq's national companies, get rid of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, completely restructure the country's tax and finance laws and throw Iraq's economy wide open for foreign multinationals. File it under bringing "democracy and capitalism" to the poor, backward Arabs.

                          The reality is that the economic policies we imposed on Iraq were not some generic form of "capitalism"; they included the most radical business-state rules imaginable - policies that developing countries have vehemently resisted for over a decade. What's more, imposing them at the point of a gun appears to have violated both international and U.S. laws. There's nothing "normal" about it.

                          And while "democratization" and "free markets" supposedly go hand-in-hand, the truth is that Iraq's economic transformation was mutually exclusive with the goal of forming a legitimate government, and the Bush administration knew it well in advance of the occupation.

                          That's because it's universally accepted - even among the most vocal proponents of the very model of corporate globalization that inspired Iraq's new economy - that in the short-term those policies create economic pain, displacement, anger and civil unrest, as well as a lack of faith in government. That's no way to win hearts and minds.

                          Even the man who implemented the shock therapy, coalition boss L. Paul Bremer, understood this quite well. Before his installation as "the dictator of Iraq" - in the words of one UN envoy - Bremer was a risk management consultant. In 2002, he wrote in a report to his corporate clients: "The painful consequences of globalization are felt long before its benefits are clear… Restructuring inefficient state enterprises requires laying off workers. And opening markets to foreign trade puts enormous pressure on traditional retailers and trade monopolies." Bremer noted that corporate globalization is "good for the economy and society in the long run, [but has] immediate negative consequences for many people," and concluded that those consequences cause "political and social tensions."

                          Pushing those policies in a country like Iraq was a matter of ideological preference and greed, not necessity. A good example is Iraq's new flat-tax, established by Order #37 (now Law #37). As the Washington Post reported : "It took L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, no more than a stroke of the pen … to accomplish what eluded [Republicans] over the course of a decade and two presidential campaigns."

                          Former Reagan and Bush 41 official Bruce Bartlett said with no small amount of envy that an occupation government doesn't have to "worry about all the political and transition problems that have made adoption of fundamental tax reform here so difficult," and Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, called the move "extremely good news." Meanwhile, one Middle East expert briefed on the plan told the Post "A piece of social engineering is being done on Iraq, but it has almost no support from other members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council."

                          Putting "free-markets" before what are recognized as "best practices" in post-conflict reconstruction had an immediate relationship with Iraq's insurgency. Consider the impact of two of Bremer's 100 Orders. Order #1 was the "De-Ba`athification of Iraqi Society." It laid off 120,000 senior civil servants (and a half million Iraqi soldiers and officers), ostensibly to clean out the government of holdovers from Saddam's Ba'ath party. But you had to be a Ba'athist to get those civil service jobs in the first place. Antonia Juhasz, author of The Bush Agenda, told me in a recent interview that "it wasn't an indication that they were a party to Saddam Hussein's crimes ... they were fired because they could have stood in the way of the economic transformation."

                          When I say "civil servants," don't think about the pasty men and women down at the Social Security office. Think about mostly Sunni civil servants - men accustomed to influence - fresh out of a job, with few prospects and facing a new order of Shi'ite rule, and remember that they all had compulsory military training and a collection of automatic weapons.

                          Now look at Order #1 in relation to Order #39, which made it a violation of Iraqi law fo the government to favor local Iraqi businesses or Iraqi workers for reconstruction work, meaning that all those pissed off, heavily-armed and newly unemployed men could not be put to work rebuilding their country.

                          That killed the State Department's own exhaustively prepared plans for post-war Iraq - plans that the administration had announced they'd follow prior to the invasion. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

                          The Administration … announced plans to employ the bulk of Iraq's regular army to rebuild Iraq's critical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, after a conflict. The United States would pay the salaries of Iraqi soldiers to perform this work, thereby ensuring - at least in the immediate term - against their return to civilian life without any gainful employment.

                          We'll never know how differently things might have turned out if the administration had listened to its own experts instead of the Chamber of Commerce's lobbyists.....

                          Comment


                          • continued.....

                            That's not to say these policies caused the insurgency - it's not that direct - but they created circumstances in which it could flourish and guaranteed it would have some popular support. This was, after all, an economic order that had led people living in much better circumstances in places like Seattle, Geneva and Montreal to riot. It was predictable that, on the heels of an invasion, they'd be greeted with violent resistance. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution was right when he called post-conflict Iraq "a debacle that was foreseeable and indeed foreseen by most experts in the field."

                            Much of this policy mix also violated international and U.S. law. It's no small irony given that one of the reasons given for the invasion was to confront a "rogue" regime that scoffed at international law.

                            Article 43 of the Hague Convention says that an occupying power must "take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." The only law that the American forces left standing was Saddam Hussein's ban on public-sector unions.

                            Article 55 says an occupying force can only serve as the "administrator" of "public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates." As the Guardian pointed out, those rules also "apply to structural changes to a public resource or service." Naomi Klein asked: "what could more substantially alter 'the substance' of a public asset than to turn it into a private one?"

                            The questionable legality of the policy was also well understood. Just a week after the bombs started falling on Baghdad, Britain's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith sent a memo to Tony Blair warning that "the imposition of major structural economic reforms would not be authorized by international law." He added: "the longer the occupation of Iraq continues, and the more the tasks undertaken by an interim administration depart from the main objective, the more difficult it will be to justify the lawfulness of the occupation."

                            The Bush administration - dominated by Big Business ideologues - went ahead with the plan nonetheless, and the consequences have been wholly predictable. After all, we've seen them before, in the former Soviet states after the USSR's collapse.

                            The adminsitration actually cited Russia's economic transition as a model for Iraq. But the University of North Carolina's Jonathan Weiler, an expert on Russia and author of Human Rights in Russia: A Darker Side of Reform told me that while "the ideology of democracy promotion says that democratic political institutions and free market reforms are two sides of a coin in terms of liberal freedoms. In fact, Russian reformers were always more interested in an economic transformation that would enrich their allies." Russia's transition to a market-based economy was anything but smooth, and Weiler says "it's certainly not a model that's compatible with trying to create a broadly legitimate government in a country that's been torn up by war and years of dictatorship. Essentially, implementing Russia's economic 'reforms' required institutions resolute enough to carry them out despite widespread opposition, and that undermined genuine political accountability. So when you look at Russian human rights since 1991, you see that the victims have changed - to the socially disadvantaged rather than the politically suspect -but the realities of life for many vulnerable Russians have in fact become worse."

                            None of this is to suggest that Iraq's economy didn't have serious inefficiencies or wasn't in need of deep structural reform. But what economists call "inefficiencies" are most commonly someone's job, or a farmer's subsidy - people's livelihoods. The reforms could have been phased in over a long period, or, better yet, started after an Iraqi government was established.

                            Common sense should have dictated that, after the destruction of its infrastructure and the dismantling of its (brutal but stable) government, Iraq didn't need to become a laboratory for neoliberal economics. It needed jobs and basics like electricity, water and sewage systems, and it needed them quickly.

                            That meant local firms, local workers and small, local projects - which make less juicy targets for saboteurs - to rebuild the country's public infrastructure. Development experts call that "local ownership," and consider it crucially important for good outcomes.

                            But commonsense has always been in short supply in the Bush administration, and they chose to make the country into a trough full of slop for the big multinationals. Make no mistake about it, Iraq's economic transformation is an example of war profiteering by other means, and the disastrous results are plain to see.

                            'Free market' ideology has killed thousands in Iraq

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                            • A car bomb and several mortars ripped through central Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 25 people and wounding 45 others, police sources said.

                              The car bomb, in the shopping district of Karrada, heavily damaged a building, raising fears the death toll could rise, said Ministry of Interior sources. The mortars landed nearby.

                              Although there have been bombings in Karrada before, the mostly Shi'ite area is one of the few relatively stable districts of the capital.

                              U.S. and Iraqi forces have been focusing their efforts on stabilising Baghdad but the violence is unrelenting. The U.S. military may boost its force in Iraq by delaying the scheduled departure of some troops involved in routine rotations, officials said in Washington on Wednesday.

                              As has been done periodically during the three-year-old war, the military would temporarily increase the size of the force by extending the overlap between arriving units and those leaving.

                              One defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the idea would be to create "a momentary overlap of at least a brigade" - meaning roughly 3,500 troops.

                              Another official said the increase might be "from the low 3,000s to the high 4,000s."

                              Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki depicted Iraq as central to the war on terrorism when he addressed the U.S. congress on Wednesday.

                              "Trust that Iraq will be the grave of terrorism and terrorists, for the good of all humanity," said Maliki, who drew frequent applause.

                              But the Shi'ite Islamist did not address Iraq's growing sectarian violence that has raised fears of all-out civil war. An average of 100 people a day have died in attacks between factions in the past few weeks.

                              He did speak of the past, thanking the United States "for helping our people get rid of dictatorship" under Saddam Hussein.

                              Several Democrats said he glossed over the killing between Shi'ites and Sunnis that they see as the main threat in Iraq and as slowing the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

                              House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it was "hard to find optimism" in the fact most of the violence "is perpetrated by Iraqis against Iraqis." She said Maliki "seemed to be in denial" of the situation.

                              Tough-talking Maliki vowed to crush the Sunni Arab insurgency and tackle sectarian violence when he was sworn in two months ago.

                              But like his predecessors, he has failed to ease bloodshed, with militias tied to political parties, including some in his ruling Shi'ite Alliance, acting with impunity and drawing accusations from Sunnis they run death squads.

                              Car bomb, mortars kill at least 25 in Baghdad

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                              • Shi'ite militias clash with British in Basra, Amara and Diwaniyah

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