BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Assailants in speeding cars gunned down a police commando as he was leaving his house in south Baghdad Thursday, and drive-by shooters killed a lawyer as she got out of a taxi in the southern city of Basra, police said. A dozen Iraqis were wounded in bombings and other attacks in the capital.
The U.S. military reported the death Thursday of an American soldier in Fallujah, west of Baghdad in the volatile province of Anbar. The soldier of the 9th Naval Construction Regiment died Tuesday from wounds sustained in fighting, the military said.
Talks to form a new government remained stalled, meanwhile, as Iraqi politicians canceled their multiparty meetings Wednesday, saying they needed time to consult with their political blocs over the critical issue of what powers the next prime minister would have over security issues.
It was the second time this week political leaders shunned a session meant to overcome the government stalemate that is in its sixth week.
Police discovered the body of a man in his 40s who had been strangled in Baghdad’s northern neighborhood of Hurriyah, likely yet another in the capital’s underground battle of revenge killings between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. To date in March, the AP has reported 374 bodies found.
A suicide car bomber rammed a police convoy in west Baghdad’s Yarmouk neighborhood, killing one police commando and wounding three others. Two civilians also were hurt.
Roadside bombs hit a minibus and a police patrol, wounding at least five civilians and at least two policemen, authorities said.
Insurgents blew up a pipeline transporting oil from the northern city of Kirkuk to the Beiji refinery, at a point near a village 45 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, an engineer in the region said. Police confirmed the attack and said they were investigating.
In violence Wednesday, gunmen stormed a Baghdad business for the third time in as many days, this time lining 14 employees against the wall and shooting them all. Eight were killed, and at least 26 others were reported dead in violence elsewhere.
The attack on the al-Ibtikar electronics trading firm began when gunmen drove up in five black BMWs shortly after 8 a.m., said police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq. The attackers set a fire in the office but took no money.
Survivors told police some of the attackers wore police uniforms and said they were intelligence agents of the Interior Ministry, which oversees police. Survivors said the gunmen asked for the company manager, who was not there, and then opened fire on the 14 workers. Six were wounded. The motive for the attack, the second on a firm in the upscale Mansour neighborhood this week, was not clear, but a key lawmaker blamed al-Qaeda or Saddam loyalists.
“These are concentrated efforts to paralyze the country. They are either from al-Qaida or the remnants of Saddam’s regime. They want to tell the people that there is no government,” said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.
The political talks appeared stalled again after a series of meetings over the past two weeks brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The major stumbling block is the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, for a second term.
Al-Jaafari faces deep opposition from Kurdish and Sunni politicians. On behalf of U.S. President George W. Bush, Khalilzad has asked other top Shiite leaders for help in persuading al-Jaafari to step aside.
While al-Jaafari was not known to have formally responded to the U.S. request, he said in an interview Wednesday that there was “concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened.”
Speaking with The New York Times, he implied the threat arose from what he viewed as the involvement of “some American figures (who) have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process.”
The United States has been pushing Iraq to speed the formation of a unity government, seen as the best option to subdue the violence gripping several Iraqi cities, and to allow for the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal this summer. There has been no breakthrough in the government deadlock since results of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections were certified Feb. 12. Parliament has met only once, in a 40-minute session so new members could be sworn in.
The March 16 meeting, however, set in motion a 60-day clock for electing a president, approving the prime minister and signing off on his cabinet.
Wednesday’s attack on the trading company came a day after masked gunmen, again many in uniform, hit a currency exchange and two electronics shops, seized 23 people and made off with tens of thousands of dollars. “All these operations have one aim: to freeze life in Iraq and sabotage the democratic process. They want to take us back to the dictatorship,” said Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji, a deputy interior minister. He, too, blamed al-Qaeda and said “we will work day and night to arrest them.”