BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – About 200 Shiites, many of them women in full-length black abayas, rallied outside the Green Zone to demand that U.S. and Iraqi forces do more to stop attacks on Iraqis.
Some protesters waved large banners Monday with slogans demanding better care for families displaced by sectarian violence. One weeping woman held up the ID card of her husband, saying he was killed in a drive-by shooting.
Two Iraqi men, a soldier and a civilian, emerged from the fortified Green Zone, home of the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government, to meet with the protesters and take notes about their demands.
Such demonstrations are rare in Baghdad because of fears large groups might attract suicide bombers.
In the latest violence, four people were killed Monday when a bomb exploded in a market in Madain, a mostly Shiite town 14 miles (22 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, police said. Two people were wounded.
At least 15 bullet-riddled bodies were found in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. The victims were men aged 20-40 years; all were handcuffed and blindfolded, the ministry said.
In addition, two people were killed Monday in drive-by shootings in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, police said. They included a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army.
U.S. officials hope the new Iraqi government, expected to be finalized this month, will be able to calm sectarian tensions and lure many Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency so U.S. and other international troops can begin heading home.
President Jalal Talabani was quoted by his office as saying Sunday that he had met with representatives of seven armed groups and was optimistic they would agree to lay down their arms. However, an official in Talabani’s office said Monday the president did not meet with the groups and that his security adviser, Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Sammaraie, made the contacts.
Another Kurdish politician, Mahmoud Othman, also said Talabani had not met with any insurgent representatives but that al-Sammaraie was in contact with undisclosed groups not linked to Saddam Hussein loyalists or al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In Washington, President George W. Bush said he was convinced Iraq’s leadership is “more determined that ever to succeed” with formation of a new permanent government. “We believe we’ve got partners to help the Iraqi people realize their dreams,” Bush said after meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who visited Baghdad last week. “They need to know that we stand with them.”
Also Monday, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposed that Iraq be divided into three separate regions, Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni, with a central government in Baghdad.
In a column in The New York Times, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware wrote that the idea “is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group … room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”
The new constitution allows for self-governing regions. But that was one of the reasons the Sunnis opposed the constitution and demanded and won an agreement that it be reviewed.
In northern Iraq, Iranian forces shelled a border area used by Iranian Kurdish rebels, forcing some families to flee but causing no casualties. Mustafa Qader, a member of the political bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan arty, said the shelling began at about 9 a.m. Sunday and continued until 5:30 a.m. Monday.
Rebels seeking self-rule in Kurdish areas of Iran operate from Iraqi territory and recently have mounted attacks on Iranian army and Revolutionary Guard posts.
Iran says the rebels, known as Pejak, are linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a 22-year insurgency against Turkey for self-rule in that country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
On Sunday, Iranian artillery fired more than 180 shells into the same area but caused no casualties, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said.
On Monday, the director general of Japan’s Defense Agency, Fukushiro Nukaga, told the U.S. that Japan would withdraw its 600 non-combat troops deployed in southern Iraq at the same time that British and Australian troops are pulled out, the Kyodo News agency reported Tuesday. The Japanese government has said in the past that it would consult with Britain and Australia before making any decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq and would take into consideration the political and security situation there.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the policy had not changed. She spoke on condition of anonymity according to department policy. Australia, which has a total 1,320 troops in and around Iraq, has said it will keep forces in the country until they are no longer needed. Britain, which has the second largest foreign force in Iraq after the United States, announced in March cuts of about 10 percent in its force of 8,000.