BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -A suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people waiting outside a heavily guarded court building in Baghdad on Thursday, killing 10 Iraqis and wounding dozens, police said.
Nearly all the casualties were civilians, many of whom were meeting outside the building with paralegals to write petitions they planned to submit in court, said police Lt. Thair Mahmoud.
The blast occurred in a mixed Sunni-Shiite area of eastern Baghdad, Mahmoud said. It was powerful enough to smash the windows of some nearby shops. Firefighters rushed to the scene and used hoses to clean blood stains from the sidewalk and street outside the court.
In other attacks Thursday, drive-by shootings in Baghdad killed an army officer, a driver for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry and a civilian, police said.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry also updated the number of Iraqis whose bullet-ridden bodies were found in the country on Wednesday to 43, many of them in the capital. They were apparent victims of death squads that kidnap civilians of rival Muslim sects, torture them, and dump their bodies.
Iraq’s violence has recently shifted from attacks by insurgents on U.S. and Iraqi forces to carefully targeted slayings of Iraqis. Such sectarian violence sharply increased after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Sunni-led insurgents also have been boldly attacking fellow Sunni Arabs who cooperate with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government by joining Iraq’s military or its police forces.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber cloaked in explosives killed two policemen and 13 police recruits gathered in Fallujah, a city surrounded by U.S. Marine checkpoints. In a nearby town, three newly recruited Sunni soldiers from the U.S.-trained Iraqi army were also found slain.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have been urging Sunni Arabs to join the police and army, which has been dominated by the rival Shiite Muslim sect and ethnic Kurds. Sunni community leaders say the presence of Shiite and Kurdish troops in their areas raises sectarian tensions and undermines confidence in the government.
Training and recruiting Sunni Arab police and soldiers is part of a broader strategy by U.S. and Iraqi authorities to establish a political role for selected Sunni insurgent groups. The goal is to split more moderate elements from the Saddam Hussein’s fanatic loyalists and extremists such as al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Last weekend, President Jalal Talabani said officials from his office met with insurgent representatives and he was hopeful about a deal.
U.S. officials also acknowledge contacts with Sunnis who have ties to the insurgency. But American diplomats have not confirmed a report this week in a leading Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, that said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had met seven times since mid-January with representatives of 10 major insurgent groups.
“Negotiations with armed groups will reduce violence” and “alienate the terrorists,” Talabani’s security adviser, Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samarraie, said Wednesday on Iraqi state television. “Consequently, no one will be able to say, ‘We are resistance groups,’ only that they are foreigners, kidnappers and groups that carry out kidnappings, robberies and killings.”
Meanwhile, the formation of Iraq’s new government continues.
Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has said he intends to finish appointing his Cabinet by late next week.
To do that, he must balance the demands of the country’s religiously and ethnically based parties for key posts, including the ministries of oil, defense and interior.
Ensuring all groups a stake in the new government may require the Shiites, who hold 130 of the 275 seats in parliament, to give minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds more posts than they would expect based on their showing in the Dec. 15 legislative elections.