Al-Maliki claims ’new phase’ of unity in Iraq

Al-Maliki claims ’new phase’ of unity in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told neighboring countries Tuesday that Iraq has moved past its internal divisions and “has entered a new phase” of unity.

The rosy declaration comes amid a growing confrontation with a radical Shiite cleric and his followers.

“Iraq has passed its crises and divisions,” al-Maliki told diplomats meeting in Kuwait at the third expanded neighbors conference.

“The will of all its people is united, and it”s moving forward to develop the political process,” he said. “It has entered a new phase, where the interest of the country transcends differences.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is also attending the conference, along with 29 foreign ministers and other top world body representatives.

Rice said she hopes to rally more support among Iraq”s neighbors to help reinforce Iraq“s recent successes.

Al-Maliki pressed his neighbors to stand by their pledges to forgive Iraq”s past debts and set up diplomatic missions in Baghdad. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Sabah said the next expanded neighbors conference will be held in Baghdad.

Tuesday”s conference comes amid renewed clashes between anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr“s followers and Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad.

On Monday, Sadrist lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie said al-Sadr”s movement is “ready for all options” after the rival parties that dominate Iraq”s government failed to meet conditions under a recent cease-fire.

On Saturday, al-Sadr issued what he called a “last warning” to the government and told his followers to fight the “occupier” in his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City.

The latest round of fighting between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and fighters loyal to al-Sadr left two dead and three wounded Tuesday, an Interior Ministry official said.

Also on Tuesday, a U.S. airstrike in Sadr City killed 10 people and wounded 17, an Interior Ministry official said.

A U.S. military spokesman said that about 7 p.m., an air weapons team used a Hellfire missile on a car being used to carry rockets, and the same crew destroyed a rocket rail in an open field shortly afterward. The crew said it was a precision strike and there were no civilians in the area, according to Lt. Col. Steve Stover, who added that he had only a preliminary report.

Stover described several other incidents in other parts of Baghdad. He said that more than 12 hours before the Sadr City blast, in an area near Sadr City called New Baghdad, a airstrike killed a man seen laying wire for a roadside bomb.

Stover also said that on Tuesday afternoon, an Iraqi army patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in the Mansour neighborhood, wounding five soldiers and 16 civilians.

U.S. troops killed another man caught running a wire for a roadside bomb and arrested three others suspected of setting another roadside bomb, both incidents occurring in New Baghdad, he said.

In his address Tuesday, al-Maliki cited Basra as one example of Iraq”s recent successes.

“We have made noticeable progress in securing Baghdad where the security plan succeeded and life returned to normal in Anbar province after it was cleaned up of al Qaeda gangs,” he said.

“We were able to impose the government”s authority and pursue outlaws in Basra and other provinces, and Nineveh will witness an operation to cleanse it of al Qaeda gangs and remnants of the former regime.”

The prime minister called on his country”s neighbors to take the “serious big steps” to implement the decisions made at previous conferences.

“A stable and safe Iraq will be in the interest of regional countries and the world,” al-Maliki said.

At a news conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, “We are not expecting miracles” from the conference in Kuwait.

Other developments

• A female suicide bomber detonated her explosives Tuesday outside an Iraqi police station in Jalawla, a Kurdish town near Baquba, killing six and wounding 12 — most of them police officers — a military spokesman said. Another female suicide bomber killed three people Monday in Baquba.

• A suicide bomber Tuesday detonated a truck at an Iraqi police checkpoint in Ramadi, killing two U.S. Marines and wounding 24 people, according to the U.S. military. The wounded included four Iraqi police officers and three children, according to a senior Awakening leader in Anbar province.

• A roadside bomb killed a Multi-National Force-West Marine and wounded another Marine in Basra on Monday, according to the U.S. military. With the deaths, 4,044 U.S. military personnel have died in the Iraq war.

• A drive-by shooting in eastern Baghdad on Monday targeted a television news crew that works for a station owned by al-Maliki”s Dawa party, according to an Interior Ministry official and a Beladi TV employee. A reporter, cameraman and driver were seriously injured after gunmen in a speeding vehicle opened fire on the group as they finished their assignment in the eastern Zaiunah neighborhood.

• Iraqi and U.S. forces killed five people labeled as criminals late Monday during fighting in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Two armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers were killed by a Hellfire missile. Three others were killed in a firefight with U.S. soldiers following a roadside bomb attack.

• An unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the U.S. military crashed Monday south of Baghdad in a field belonging to a local sheikh, the U.S. military said. The cause of the crash is unclear. U.S. soldiers recovered the drone north of Musayyib several hours after it crashed around 1:35 p.m.