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US tries to stem sectarian violence

Troops patrol to calm Shi'ite city

BAGHDAD -- US forces patrolled the streets of the predominantly Shi'ite city of Balad yesterday after five days of sectarian slaughter killed 95 people, violence that surged out of control despite the efforts of Iraq's best-trained soldiers.

The country's Fourth Army took command of the region north of Baghdad a month ago, but had been unable to stem recent attacks in Balad, where the slayings of 17 Shi'ite Muslim workers on Friday set off revenge killings by Shi'ites.

Minority Sunnis, who absorbed most of the brutality in the city of 80,000 people, have been fleeing across the Tigris River in small boats, Balad police commander Brigadier Nebil al-Beldawi said. On the outskirts of the city, two fuel trucks were attacked and burned.

The police commander said gunmen wearing black uniforms, trademark clothing of Shi'ite militiamen, had clashed with residents of Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni city on the east bank of the Tigris, opposite Balad. Beldawi said the militants were keeping food and fuel trucks from entering Duluiyah.

The conflict between Shi'ites and Sunnis in the Balad area illustrates the threat to the region should Iraq move toward dividing into three federal states -- controlled by Shi'ites in the south, Sunnis in the center, and Kurds in the north.

Regions such as Baghdad and areas immediately to the north, including Balad, are now home to Shi'ites and Sunnis. Both groups would be expected to fight hard to maintain control of their territory, especially in the capital.

Last week, over the objection of nearly all Sunnis and some Shi'ites, the Shi'ite-dominated parliament voted to allow moves toward establishing federal states after an 18-month waiting period.

Dividing the country would close Sunnis off from oil wealth, which would end up with the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south. Forty mortar rounds poured into Balad overnight and into the morning, killing at least four people, bringing the death toll in the area to at least 95 in five days of fighting.

Gunmen in police uniforms hijacked 13 civilian cars and abducted their occupants at a checkpoint outside Balad on Monday night, Salahuddin provincial police reported. They remained missing yesterday.

Elsewhere in Iraq, 36 people were killed yesterday in violent attacks and 16 more corpses were found in the capital, their hands and legs bound and showing signs of torture, police reported.

According to an Associated Press count, October is on track to be the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. In October, 767 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence, an average of 45 every day. That compares with an average daily death toll of about 27 since April 2005.

Also yesterday, Saddam Hussein accused prosecution witnesses in his genocide trial of sowing division for the benefit of Israel after they testified that his regime's forces detained Kurds in camps where hundreds died of malnutrition.

The chief prosecutor said Hussein ran a police state that kept no records of detainees and camps -- a charge the deposed leader denied.

It was the first time in weeks that Hussein was allowed to speak during the session, in contrast to previous hearings when he was ordered out of the courtroom after being accused of making political statements irrelevant to proceedings.

Hussein spoke twice yesterday, the first time to dispute testimony by two witnesses. They said they were detained, during an offensive against Kurds in 1988, in a camp where conditions were so bad that hundreds died of malnutrition.

``This will only serve the separation," he said, referring to the deepening division among Iraqis amid sectarian fighting. ``The Zionists are the only ones who will benefit from the differences among Iraqis."

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