Violence ruins Iraq mosque as leaders feud over Cabinet

Sunni clerics urge Iraqis to join security forces

Insurgents gunned down an Iraqi police chief and blew up the top of a centuries-old minaret Friday as Sunni Arab leaders feuded over their role in a government still a long way from being finalized. In a surprise development, Sunni clerics issued a fatwa encouraging their people to join the country's armed forces.

The police chief of the tense town of Baladruz northeast of Baghdad, Colonel Hatem Rashid, was killed by gunmen overnight in the latest assassination of top army and police officers.

In the restive city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, five gunmen, including four Syrians, were killed in clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces, Major General Rashid Flaih of the Iraqi police commandos said, adding that 12 suspects were captured and weapons seized.

The local hospital said it received five bodies.

This came after the top layer of the towering ninth-century spiral minaret of the Malwiyya Mosque in Samarra, a national arcaeological treasure, was damaged in a blast that occurred just two weeks after the departure U.S. troops stationed there.

Samarra continues to be an insurgent battleground as Iraqi and U.S. forces press efforts to rid the mainly Sunni Arab city of insurgents. A car bomb in the city center on Thursday killed seven people.

Amid the continuing violence, Iraq's main political blocs were still far from forming a government two months after landmark elections.

The main stumbling block is a desire by Shiites and Kurds alike to include the embittered Sunni Arab community, which largely boycotted the elections.

The Kurds are also keen for the secular bloc of outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to join a new governing coalition to temper the influence of the religious parties that dominate the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance.

"We are still looking forward to participation but according to our terms," Qassim Daoud, a member of Allawi's list, told AFP.

Daoud said negotiators were meeting regularly with Shiites and Kurds and that the focus was still on nailing an agreement on common principles rather than the distribution of Cabinet posts.

A negotiator from Allawi's list said they wanted to be an equal partner in any coalition government with the right to

dissolve it if they disagreed with any of its actions.

"We want to be true partners and not just to tag along," said Hussein al-Shaalan.

The Shiite tribal leader from southern Iraq scolded some elements of the Sunni leadership for trying to gain maximum leverage in a process they had shunned.

"The Sunnis who say they represent their community must be realistic and comprehend the gravity of the situation otherwise they will hurt themselves and their people," he said.

Sunnis could not even agree Tuesday on a nominee for the post of Parliament speaker, which both Shiites and Kurds want reserved for the community that dominated successive Iraqi governments before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Assembly is due to meet again Sunday to take another stab at choosing a speaker and two deputies.

As the politicians bickered, a group of 64 Sunni clerics issued a fatwa calling on members of their community to join the Iraqi police and army, which have so far been dominated by the majority Shiites.

"Foreign troops are hated by Iraqis. ... I'm happy to see Iraqi police and soldiers controlling the situation in my country," said Sheikh Abdel-Ghafur al-Samarrai, one of the signatories and a senior member of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which boycotted the elections.

"Why do we have people from the north or south coming to our cities. We want people from our cities to be serving their own people." Thousands of newly recruited Iraqi soldiers, many of them from Baghdad or the Shiite south, were sent last autumn to keep the peace in Sunni cities like Mosul, Samarra and Fallujah following major military operations there.

Also, a U.S. citizen believed to be a close associate of Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was captured in Iraq late last year and is being held by the U.S. military as an "enemy combatant," a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.

Compiled by Daily Star staff Saturday, April 02, 2005

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