BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Dozens of policemen were missing Friday and at least six were dead after insurgents executed a daring ambush on a police convoy near a U.S. base, officials said. A series of bombings killed at least five people in three Iraqi cities.
Insurgents set off roadside bombs and then opened fire Thursday night on a large police convoy near the U.S. base of Taji, just north of Baghdad. The policemen from the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, were returning home after picking up new vehicles at the base, police said.
A senior official in the Najaf governor’s office said only 35 of the 80 policemen had returned by Friday to the city. The others were either dead or unaccounted for, he said. Attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great, and “long live jihad” as they swarmed about the burning vehicles firing at the police, survivors told authorities.
Most of the vehicles were destroyed.
In other attacks, a pair of roadside bombings near two Sunni mosques in the city of Baqouba killed least four civilians and wounded six, police said. The two mosques, Saad bin Maath mosque in the city’s New Baqouba district and the al-Aqsa mosque in Katoun, are about two kilometers (about a mile) apart, officials said.
A suicide car bomber in the southern province of Basra targeted a British military convoy outside the Shuaiba military base about 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) southwest of Basra city, killing at least one civilian and wounding four British troops, police said.
In the northern city of Mosul, at least seven people were wounded in another suicide car bomb attack on a police station, police said. Police saw the vehicle coming and fired at the driver, preventing him from entering the compound, an official said.
Back in Baghdad, police discovered the body of a handcuffed man, shot in the head, in the southern neighborhood of Dora. On the political front, leaders of the Shiite alliance said they will attend next week’s parliament session even if they haven’t reached agreement on names for the top political posts in Iraq’s next government.
Members of the alliance will meet this weekend to discuss the posts, including the position of prime minister, at the core of the political debate behind a long-standing stalemate, and also attend the parliament session, scheduled for Monday, said Sabah al-Saedi, a Shiite politician.
“We will meet Saturday and Sunday to discuss the matters of the prime minister nomination and the distribution of key posts,” said al-Saedi, whose small Fadhila party is part of the alliance. “We are going to attend Monday, regardless of what happens at the internal meetings.” Ridha Jawad Taqi, a leading figure of the biggest Shiite party, also said the alliance plans to attend Monday’s meeting.
A Shiite lawmaker had said a day earlier that members of the alliance were reluctant to attend the session until a deal has been struck on the premiership and other top government positions that require parliamentary approval. The softening of tone appeared to be an attempt by the Shiites not to come across as an obstruction to the political process, even though they still haven’t sorted out the dispute over their nominee for prime minister.
Negotiations over a new national unity government have been stalled for months over the issue of who gets that post. The Shiites, the biggest bloc in the 275-member parliament, have nominated Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term. But Sunni and Kurdish parties, whom the Shiites need as coalition partners, have rejected al-Jaafari and called on the Shiites to name a new candidate.
Al-Jaafari’s supporters within the seven-party Shiite alliance have refused to replace him, and other groups within the bloc fear that trying to force him out will shatter the Shiite political movement. Parliament speaker Adnan Pachachi called for parliament to convene Monday to try to resolve the crisis.
Voters chose the 275-member assembly on Dec. 15, but the legislature met briefly only once last month. The lack of progress has frustrated Iraqis, especially as steady violence, much of it sectarian, continues to claim hundreds of lives and threatens to push the country into a large-scale civil war.
U.S. troops have sharply increased patrols in Baghdad since the spike in sectarian violence after the Feb. 22 bombing of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra. The U.S. command boosted the number of armed patrols in the capital from 12,000 in February to 20,000 since the beginning of March, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters Thursday.
Lynch said the increase provides a “more visible presence for the security forces in the streets of Baghdad,” which he said insurgents consider their “center of gravity” to stop formation of a new unity government. Tit-for-tat killings between Shiites and Sunnis soared after the Samarra bombing, triggering reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Violence was worse in religiously mixed areas of Baghdad, forcing the Americans to return to neighborhoods that had been turned over to the Iraqis.