News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran influence feared in new Iraqi violence

Iran influence feared in new Iraqi violence

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AP: A four-day rampage of sectarian fighting raged unchecked Monday in Balad and its environs, leaving at least 91 people dead, the police and army officials said. The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) – A four-day rampage of sectarian fighting raged unchecked Monday in Balad and its environs, leaving at least 91 people dead, the police and army officials said.

The fighting exploded Friday with the discovery of the headless bodies of 17 Shiite workers in an orchard near the city, which is 80 kilometers, or 50 miles, north of Baghdad.

Shiites swiftly retaliated by setting up roadblocks in Balad, which is predominantly Shiite but ringed by Sunni-dominated villages, towns and farmland. Revenge-seekers abducted and shot Sunnis, witnesses said. All refused to give their names for fear of retribution.

A police officer in Duluiya said members of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr were leading the violence with the aid of local police.

Mohamed Ali Hamid, a Sunni taxi driver, said he walked for two hours with 20 family members on Sunday to reach the nearby Sunni town of Duluiya. Shiite militiamen accompanied by the police Sunday had given them just two hours to leave, he said.

“They said, ‘You are Sunnis and have no place here at all,'” Hamid said by telephone from a police station where he had been taken after Duluiya law enforcement picked up the group along the highway. “They burned everything related to Sunnis and we were forced to leave everything behind.”

Duluiya and Balad are on opposite sides of the Tigris River.

Hamid said local Sunnis had nothing to do with the beheadings and had lived in peace with their Shiite neighbors for decades. He blamed militants backed by the Shiite government of Iran for the bloodshed. “There are hidden hands behind this who want Shiites and Sunnis to fight each other,” Hamid said. “They are the Iranians.”

The Iraqi government appeared powerless to stop the fighting, demonstrating its failure to form political consensus that could rein in sectarian rivalries and establish meaningful security. On Sunday, the government postponed a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference aimed at bridging religious and ethnic divides indefinitely.

Prosecutor’s brother killed

Gunmen killed the brother of the chief prosecutor in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Monday, even as the ex-president called for insurgents to forgive their American enemies and for Iraqis to forgive each other and stop sectarian killings, The Associated Press reported from Baghdad.

In an open letter, Saddam declared that Iraq’s “liberation” was imminent – an apparent effort to cast himself as a statesman as Iraq plunges further into civil war and the United States weighs what to do next.

Many Iraqis have come to believe that the United States has decided to begin pulling out of Iraq, despite President George W. Bush’s denials.

“The hour of liberation is at hand, god willing,” Saddam wrote in the Arabic-language letter, which he dictated to his lawyers over the weekend and released Monday. “But remember that your near-term goal is confined to freeing your country from the forces of occupation and their followers, and not to be preoccupied in settling scores.”

He signed it as the “president and commander in chief of the holy warrior armed forces.”

Saddam said he was addressing Iraqis in a letter because “my chances to express my opinion are limited” in detention.

Court officials also said Monday that the verdict and sentence in Saddam’s first trial, for killing nearly 150 Shiites in Dujail in 1982, would be handed down Nov. 5. Many fear that verdict and sentence – which could be death – will further inflame tensions across Iraq.

The killing of the brother of the top prosecutor in the second trial, Imad al- Faroon, merely added to the fears of sectarian violence. Faroon was shot in front of his wife at his home in Baghdad.

Faroon’s brother is chief prosecutor Muqith al-Faroon, who is leading the Saddam prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity in his alleged killing of thousands of Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war.

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