Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi called Wednesday for talks with the country’s insurgent groups, as the Pentagon claimed Al-Qaeda is using children as fodder in their brutal war in Iraq.
Despite raging violence which killed 100 people in two days, Iraqis were celebrating the Kurdish Nowruz spring festival which fell a day after the nation marked the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion.
Hashemi, a Sunni, said in an interview with the BBC that militants, Al-Qaeda excluded, were “just part of the Iraqi communities.”
“I do believe there is no way but to talk to everybody,” said Hashemi, who is due in Tokyo later Wednesday.
All parties “should be invited, should be called to sit down around the table to discuss their fears, their reservations,” he said, while adding that Al-Qaeda was “not very much willing, in fact, to talk to anybody.”
A senior US military official in Washington accused Al-Qaeda in Iraq of callously using children as part of its change tactics due to tighter controls around Baghdad.
Major General Michael Barbero of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff told reporters on Tuesday that insurgents had detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle with two children in the back seat after US soldiers let it through a Baghdad checkpoint over the weekend.
“Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back.”
A member of parliament from the bloc of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, claimed US forces raided his office early on Wednesday and confiscated his personal weapons and a computer.
Baha al-Aaraji told AFP that US troops had arrived at his office in Kadhimiyah district of Baghdad at around 2:00am (2300 GMT Tuesday) and had confiscated a hand gun, a Kalashnikov and a personal computer.
“We find that this provocative step is meant to drag the Sadr trend into confrontation,” Aaraji said. “But we are sticking to our supportive stand to the government and to the Baghdad security plan.”
Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law), an ambitious security plan launched last month to regain control of the capital and quell sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites, has included in its sights Sadr’s militia in his east Baghdad bastion.
The black-clad militia who once controlled the streets of Sadr City melted into the shadows soon after the plan was launched on February 14 and Sadr himself has gone to ground — in Iran according to US officials.
Despite the operation, which involves a surge of 25,000 extra troops on the streets of Baghdad and surrounding regions, violence has raged on across the country, although the number of killings in Baghdad itself has dropped.
Security officials on Tuesday reported 49 people killed or found murdered across the country but mostly in Baghdad while the toll from bombings and shootings the previous day was 25 plus another 30 corpses found in the capital.
In the western city of Ramadi, more than 500 Iraqi police are engaged in an operation against militants, an AFP correspondent said.
On Tuesday, the first day of the operation, police rounded up at least 45 people and uncovered a large cache of arms.
The operation is being backed by US marines and the Iraqi army.
While most Baghdadis used the Nowruz national holiday to stay indoors and watch television, in the relatively peaceful Kurdish north of the country, residents flocked to parks and gardens to enjoy the change in the season, television reports showed.
Dozens of men, women and children from the Sabean community, most of them wearing white tunics, gathered to cleanse their bodies and souls at a sharp bend of the Tigris in an area of Baghdad known as the Island of Weddings.