your connection to The Boston Globe

Iraq official warns there are no 'magical solutions' to woes

Boys lit candles yesterday for the victims of violence between rival Shi'ite militias in Karbala. Boys lit candles yesterday for the victims of violence between rival Shi'ite militias in Karbala. (GHASSAN AL-YASSIRI/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BAGHDAD - A senior Iraqi official cautioned yesterday against expecting "magical solutions" from the upcoming reports to Congress on military and political progress in Iraq and acknowledged the Iraqis are still not ready to defend the country on their own.

The assessments by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari touched on some of the core US frustrations expected in next month's report: The inability of Iraq's leaders to put aside their political feuds and create a credible security force to allow a possible American withdrawal.

In the south, gunmen set fire to offices of a Shi'ite political party in at least three towns as tensions remained high.

The attacks raise doubts about the impact of an order by anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to suspend operations of his powerful Mahdi Army militia. His declaration Wednesday brought hope of easing the fighting among the majority Shi'ite community.

Meanwhile, two more American soldiers have been killed in action, one yesterday in Baghdad and the other the day before south of the capital, the US military reported. That brings the total US troop deaths in Iraq this month to at least 77, just two fewer than the July total.

Iraq's turmoil, including clashes this week between Shi'ite militias in the holy Shi'ite city of Karbala, has drawn new attention to the security crisis only days before key reports to the US Congress measuring progress since the arrival of 30,000 additional American soldiers.

The reports, including those by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and top US commander General David Petraeus, are expected to point to limited success in curbing violence but little progress toward political power-sharing agreements among Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

At a news conference, Zebari insisted that Iraq has been making some headway in resolving political differences, despite defections by the main Sunni Arab bloc and a hard-line Shi'ite faction.

"The whole world is waiting anxiously to see what this report will indicate," Zebari said. "I personally believe that this report would not provide any magical solutions or provide any instant answers to the difficulties and challenges we are going through."

Zebari, a Kurd, cited an agreement reached last weekend by the country's five leading political leaders to work for parliamentary approval of landmark legislation Washington demands.

"I am hopeful that come Sept. 11 or 12 you will see more political progress," Zebari said without elaborating.

In the meantime, Iraqis need help from US and other international forces because the capabilities of Iraqi security forces "are not up to what is desired."

The Defense Ministry said yesterday that 35 people were killed and 130 wounded during the battles in Karbala. Other officials said 51 people died in the two days of clashes, which broke out Monday between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, allied with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the biggest Shi'ite party.

After the Karbala confrontation, Sadr ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his militia to reorganize and presumably rein in Iranian-backed splinter groups beyond his control.

Despite the order, gunmen set fire to at least three Supreme Council offices yesterday, one near Nasiriyah and two near Hillah, according to police.

The attacks caused no casualties and it was unclear whether Sadr's followers were responsible.

More from