Mortar attack kills 6 near Baghdad
By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer 39 minutes ago
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A mortar attack east of Baghdad killed six people, including
two children, as a dispute emerged over transferring control of the armed
forces from the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqi government.
Several mortars fell on a residential area of al-Maamel in the capital's
eastern outskirts Saturday night, police said. Six people were killed, and 15
were wounded, said Rahim Qasim Basim of the al-Sadr General Hospital.
On Sunday morning, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in eastern
Baghdad killed two policemen and a civilian and wounded three policemen,
police Maj. Mahir Hameed Mosa said.
The mainly Shiite eastern parts of the capital have seen significant violence
in recent days. The most severe occurred on Thursday night, when a coordinated
barrage of attacks killed 64 people and wounded 286 within half an hour.
Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed over the last week, despite a massive
security operation in the capital involving an extra 12,000 Iraqi and U.S.
troops targeting some of Baghdad's most problematic neighborhoods.
The defense ministry has said it will expand the security crackdown to include
parts of eastern Baghdad.
Meanwhile, authorities canceled a highly touted ceremony in which the U.S.-led
coalition was to hand over control of Iraq's armed forces command to the
Defense Ministry after disagreements emerged over Iraqi forces'
responsibilities and the coalition's role.
The ceremony, initially set for Saturday, was postponed to Sunday and then
It was to have marked the formal transfer of control of Iraq's armed forces to
the government. The ministry and the country's Joint Headquarters are to
assume responsibility for the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, the Iraqi Air Force
and the Iraqi Navy.
The U.S. has said handing over control of the armed forces to Iraqi
authorities is a key part of any eventual drawdown of U.S. troops in the
"There are issues that are still being worked out," said U.S. spokesman Lt.
Col. Barry Johnson.
The issues were centered on "delineating the responsibilities of the joint
headquarters and the coalition's role in supporting their efforts."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Thursday that he believed Iraqi forces
would have control of most of the country by the end of the year.
On Saturday, he met with Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric. Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned the prime minister to quell violence or risk
"other powers" filling the gap.
In July, al-Sistani was credited with restraining the Shiite community from
widespread retaliation against minority Sunnis following horrific attacks on
"If the government does not do its duty in imposing security and order to the
people and protecting them, it will give a chance to other powers to do this
duty and this a very dangerous matter," al-Sistani's office quoted him as
Thirteen Pakistani and Indian Shiite pilgrims and their Iraqi driver were
ambushed and killed on their way to the holy city of Karbala 50 miles south of
the capital, police said Saturday - apparently victims of the country's
continuing sectarian violence.
Shiite pilgrims are to observe Shaaban, a mid-month religious celebration, on
Tensions also brewed in the north Saturday, with a leading Sunni politician
slamming a decision by Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani to order the Iraqi
national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish one in his northern autonomous
The move has troubled Sunni Arabs, who fear Kurds are pushing for secession
under the nation's new federal system.
Sunni Arab lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq said there was no problem with the Kurds
"keeping the land that's within their acknowledged borders," but he said that
lowering the Iraqi flag "is definitely disturbing for us and any patriotic
individual in Iraq."
A spokesman for the Kurdistan government defended his government's decision to
remove the Iraqi flag.
"We consider that this flag represents the ideology of the Baath Party" of
Saddam Hussein, Khalid Saleh told The Associated Press. "And this regime has
In Washington, a day after a Pentagon report described spreading sectarian
violence, President Bush painted a rosier picture.
"Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not
descended into a civil war," he said, although he acknowledged "a bloody
campaign of sectarian violence" and the "difficult and dangerous" work of
trying to end it.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Rawya Rageh in Baghdad
contributed to this report.