BAGHDAD, Iraq – President Jalal Talabani urged Iraq's feuding factions Wednesday to unite against surging crime and terrorism, as the government reported 952 people were killed nationwide last month in "terrorist" violence — most of them civilians.
President Jalal Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla commander, said Iraqis feel "shock, dismay and anger" at the ongoing slaughter, including attacks by sectarian death squads that torture and kill their victims before dumping the mutilated bodies in the streets.
"What is asked of the political parties is that they strenuously and clearly condemn these crimes, regardless of who the perpetrators are," Talabani said in a statement. "Clerics — be they Muslim, Christians, Shiite or Sunni — from all factions should also issue edicts rejecting these acts."
Figures from the ministries of health and interior showed that during April, 686 civilians were killed in politically motivated violence, along with 190 insurgents, 54 policemen and 22 Iraqi soldiers.
Eighty-two coalition troops — including 76 Americans, three Italians, one Romanian, one Britain and one Australian — died in Iraq during the same period.
The rising death tolls add new urgency to efforts by Iraq's religiously and ethnically based parties to complete formation of a broadbased government.
In Wednesday's violence, gunmen northeast of Baghdad stopped a bus carrying employees of a state-run electronics firm, ordered the women off and gunned down the men, company spokesman Adnan Hamad said. The gunmen then boobytrapped the bus and when rescuers opened the door, a bomb exploded. Altogether, 11 people were killed and six wounded, Hamad said.
U.S. officials believe a new national unity government can — over time — restore public confidence, calm sectarian tensions, undercut the Sunni-dominated insurgency and enable American and other international troops to go home.
Tortuous negotiations have been under way for months to organize the new government, and incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said he expected to complete the final stage — the appointment of his Cabinet — this week.
Al-Maliki's spokesman, Salah Abdul-Razaq said the Shiite leader was hopeful the task could be completed by Sunday. However, Abdul-Razaq told The Associated Press that some factions were objecting to the formula for distributing Cabinet posts, raising the possibility of further delays.
The spokesman said al-Maliki insisted that the new ministers of defense and interior "be independents and outside the factions." U.S. and British officials have insisted that the new heads of those ministries, which control the army and police, not be linked to parties that operate militias blamed for many of the sectarian killings.
But the Shiite alliance has insisted on retaining the Interior Ministry, and officials said Tuesday that the Sunnis and Kurds had accepted that demand. That would give the Shiites the right to nominate an interior minister subject to approval by other parties.
However, the Shiites said they wanted to appoint the incumbent, Bayan Jabr, who has been accused by the Sunnis of tolerating militias and death squads in the ranks of the ministry's paramilitary commandos.
On Wednesday, a key Sunni Arab leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, warned that Jabr was unacceptable for the post and the Shiites should find another candidate.
"If Bayan retains it, the political process and the prospects for forming a national unity government will collapse," al-Dulaimi told AP. "The (Shiite) alliance say that they want security and they are pragmatists. I don't think that they will insist on Bayan."
In an interview Wednesday with U.S. National Public Radio, Jabr said he believed the government could bring an end to the death squads "in the next few months."
"As you know part of this is the terrorists, part of it is crime, part of it revenge, part is political, part is ethnic" rivalry, he said.
Al-Dulaimi expressed doubt that the new Cabinet would be finalized before next week. Under the constitution, al-Maliki has 30 days from the date of his appointment — April 22 — to present his government to parliament.
If he fails, Talabani would designate someone else to try although that is unlikely because it would further complicate an already complicated process.
Elsewhere, five security detainees escaped Tuesday from a U.S. detention center near Sulaimaniyah, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
In southern Iraq, gunmen killed the brother of a famous Iraqi playwrite, Falah Shaker, whose works thrived under Saddam Hussein's regime. Shaker was among Iraqi writers believed to have written a novel attributed to Saddam.
Gunmen also assassinated the Zubayr leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group, and two colleagues as they left a mosque after left evening prayers, Kadhim said.
In Baghdad, gunmen riding in two cars assassinated a Defense Ministry press office employee as he drove to work at about 8:15 a.m., police said. Gunmen also killed a Shiite taxi driver and a Shiite who once belonged to Iraq's disbanded Baath party in separate attacks in the capital, police said.