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Iraqis told to arm themselves

Politicians frustrated amid rising violence

BAGHDAD -- Prominent Shi'ite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including 60 who died yesterday in a surge of bombings and shootings around Baghdad.

The proposals to arm civilians reflected growing frustration over the inability of Iraqi forces to prevent attacks, while the string of bombings in the Iraqi capital showed that extremists can still unleash powerful strikes there despite the US security crackdown.

Abbas al-Bayati, a Shi'ite Turkman lawmaker, said yesterday that, in the absence of enough security forces, the Iraqi government should help residents "arm themselves" for their own protection.

The call to arms for civilians was echoed by the country's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al- Hashemi, who said "the people have no choice but to take up their own defense."

The idea of organizing communities to handle their own defense has been gaining support here after the success that Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar Province have had in driving Al Qaeda from their towns and villages.

Yesterday's deadliest attack occurred when a bomb struck a truckload of newly recruited Iraqi soldiers on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing 15 and wounding 20, police said.

Also yesterday, two car bombs exploded almost simultaneously in Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite Karradah district, killing eight people. The first detonated at 10:30 a.m. near a closed restaurant, destroying stalls and soft drink stands. Two passersby were killed and eight hurt, a police official said.

About five minutes later, the second car exploded about a mile away near shops selling leather jackets and shoes. Six people were killed and seven wounded, the official said.

The Karradah area includes the offices of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the biggest Shi'ite party in Parliament, and is considered among the safest parts of the capital.

Elsewhere, a bomb hidden under a car detonated yesterday at the entrance of Shorja market -- a mostly Shi'ite area of central Baghdad that has been hit repeatedly by insurgents -- killing three civilians and wounding five, police said.

The weekend deaths included two American soldiers -- one killed yesterday in a suicide bombing on the western outskirts of Baghdad and another who died in combat Saturday in Salahuddin Province north of the capital, the US command said. Three soldiers were wounded in yesterday's blast.

Police also reported they found the bodies of 29 men yesterday scattered across Baghdad -- presumed victims of sectarian death squads. Four other people were killed in separate shootings in Baghdad, police said.

The bloodshed in the Baghdad area paled in comparison with the carnage Saturday when a truck bomb wrecked the public market in Armili, a town north of the capital whose inhabitants are mostly Shi'ites from the Turkman ethnic minority.

There was still confusion over the death toll. Two police officers -- Colonel Sherzad Abdullah and Colonel Abbas Mohammed Amin -- said 150 people were killed. Other officials put the death toll at 115. Bayati told reporters in Baghdad that 130 had died.

Regardless of the precise figure, the attack was clearly among the deadliest in Iraq in months. It reinforced suspicions that Al Qaeda extremists were moving north to less protected regions beyond the US operation in Baghdad and on the capital's northern doorstep.

In a joint statement, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq, said the attack against the Turkman Shi'ites was "another sad example of the nature of the enemy and their use of indiscriminate violence to kill innocent citizens."

Turkish military air ambulances evacuated 21 people wounded in the attack for treatment in Turkish hospitals, the country's Foreign Ministry said. Turkey feels special responsibility for its ethnic brethren, the Turkmen, who speak a Turkic language.

During a news conference yesterday in Baghdad, Bayati criticized the security situation in Armili, saying its police force had only 30 members and that the Interior Ministry had finally responded to requests for reinforcements only two days before the attack.

Hashemi said the government should provide communities with money, weapons, and training and "regulate their use by rules of behavior."

"People have a right to expect from the government and security agencies protection for their lives, land, honor, and property," he said in a statement.

Another prominent Sunni lawmaker, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had failed to provide services and security but he stopped short of saying his followers would seek to topple the Shi'ite-led government in a no-confidence vote.

CBS News reported that a large bloc of Sunni Iraqi politicians will ask for a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against Maliki's government on July 15.

"The situation has become terribly bad," Dulaimi said. "All options are open for us. We are going to study the situation thoroughly, and we are going to look into the possible measures which go with the interests of the Iraqi people. We will also consider whether to keep on with the government or not."

But Iraq's national security adviser, a Shi'ite, insisted that the government still enjoyed broad support and he warned against any effort to replace Maliki.

"I can tell you one thing that after Maliki, there is going to be the hurricane in Iraq," Mouwaffak al-Rubaie told CNN's "Late Edition."

"This is an extremely important point to make across and to the Western audience and to the Arab audience as well as the larger Muslim audience."

The Bush administration is facing a July 15 deadline to present an interim progress report to Congress on whether the Iraqi government is meeting political and security benchmarks.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates scrapped plans to go on a four-nation tour of Latin America this week and will instead stay home to attend meetings on Iraq.

US and Iraqi officials have said they hope to replicate the Anbar model of community-based defense elsewhere in the country, but under government supervision and control.

Yesterday, Lieutenant General Ali Gheidan said the Iraqi Army planned to raise volunteer forces in Diyala Province, where US and Iraqi forces have driven Al Qaeda fighters from part of the capital of Baqubah. He said more than 3,800 volunteers have been recruited.