BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A car bomb blasted a state-run newspaper on Sunday as police reported finding 20 bodies in Baghdad, one day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki again called on ethnically and religiously divided Iraqis to unite.
A bomb on a minibus killed nine people in central Baghdad, sending clouds of thick smoke billowing into the sky, while a bomb planted inside a food market in a town north of Baghdad killed at least five and wounded 15, police said.
The blasts occurred despite a major security operation by thousands of American and Iraqi troops to restore order to the capital, where sectarian and Sunni insurgent violence claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Iraqis in July alone.
Police said 20 bodies had been found in various districts of Baghdad on Saturday. Some bore signs of torture and most had been killed by gunshots to the head, a typical feature of the communal bloodshed between the Shi’ite and Sunni sects.
Maliki, whose government has struggled to contain the bloodshed, called on tribal leaders gathered in the capital on Saturday to use their influence to unite “Iraq’s sons” to end violence that has raised fears of all-out civil war.
The car bomb exploded in the parking lot of al-Sabah daily in Baghdad’s Waziriya district, killing a guard and another employee, wounding 18 and causing extensive damage to the building. A car bomb attack on the newspaper in May killed one.
Editor in chief Falah al-Meshaal told Reuters the newspaper, part of the U.S.-funded Iraqi Media Network, would be published as normal on Monday.
“This is the work of takfiris (radical militants) and terrorists who don’t want the truth printed in the new Iraq,” he said, blaming the attack on a suicide bomber.
The blast demolished the facade of the newspaper’s production department. Two cars were blown through one wall by the force of the huge explosion, which left a score of vehicles crumpled, blackened wrecks.
Insurgents fighting to topple the U.S.-backed Shi’ite-led government of national unity often target journalists working for state media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists media watchdog says at least 10 journalists working for the Iraqi Media Network, which also includes Iraqi state television and its affiliates, have been killed since 2003.
Tribal leaders attending Saturday’s meeting gave their support for Maliki’s national unity plan and pledged to use their authority to end the bloodletting, but it is unclear how effective they can be among Iraqis increasingly turning to religious leaders for guidance.
Crucially no major Sunni rebel group has signed up to the plan and Maliki has said he will not offer amnesty to anyone with Iraqi blood on their hands.
The violence gripping the capital is also mostly sectarian in nature and many of the militias accused of fuelling it are linked to parties within Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government.
“The role of the militias … represent the heart of the problem,” the new British ambassador to Baghdad said in an interview on state television on Saturday night.
“It is not possible that the government can accept the presence of armed groups operating outside the law and the constitution,” envoy Dominic Asquith said.
But the U.S. and Iraqi troops now sweeping through Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods have not sought to tackle the militias directly and have focused instead on finding illegal weapons and improving dilapidated essential services.
U.S.-led troops moved from house to house in the insurgent stronghold of Adhamiya in northern Baghdad on Sunday searching for arms in the latest phase of the operation.