Crowd stones Iraq PM as govt calls for calm

Angry fellow Shi’ites stoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s motorcade in a Shi’ite stronghold of Baghdad on Sunday in a display of fury over a devastating car bomb that tore through their area.

Maliki was visiting the Sadr City slum to pay respects to some of the 202 victims of last week’s devastating bombing.

“It’s all your fault!” one man shouted as, in unprecedented scenes, a hostile crowd began to surge around the premier and then jeered as his armoured convoy edged through the throng away from a mourning ceremony.

The area is a base for the Mehdi Army militia led by Maliki’s fellow Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

Though the violence was limited, it was a dramatic demonstration of the popular passions Maliki and his national unity government are trying to calm following Thursday’s multiple car bombs in Sadr City — the worst since the U.S. invasion — and later revenge attacks.

On Sunday, a car bomb killed at least 6 people and wounded more than 20 in a market just south of Baghdad, police said.

On the third full day of a curfew on the capital, mortar bombs crashed down in various parts of Baghdad and residents reported isolated and mostly unexplained clashes.

The government has said traffic can circulate again from Monday morning but, after a series of high-level meetings, it again appealed for calm.

APPEAL FOR UNITY

“We are counting on you, a great nation,” Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish leaders said in a joint statement. “Do not let those who are depriving you of security impinge on your unity.

“They want to drag you all into angry reactions.

“Those whose forefathers have lived together for thousands of years on this land as brothers … come today so we can write our history, our present and the future, for our children and grandchildren, in forgiveness,” the statement continued.

Maliki accused factions in the government itself of fuelling conflict. Three days before he meets President George W. Bush to talk about how to impose stability and start pulling out U.S. troops, he said the violence reflected a “political crisis”.

Frustrated by deadlock in the national unity government over the past six months and harsher rhetoric between minority Sunnis and his fellow Shi’ite leaders, he said: “The ones who can stop a further deterioration and the bloodshed are the politicians.”

But he added this could happen “only when they agree and all realise that there are no winners and losers in this battle.”

“Let’s be totally honest — the security situation is a reflection of political disagreement,” he said on television.

Iraqis — and Maliki’s sponsors in Washington — are frustrated at his failure to improve either security or the economy since being appointed in April as a compromise candidate following months of wrangling within the dominant Shi’ite bloc.

Maliki’s aides say he in turn is irritated by uncompromising language, and support for armed groups, among Sunni leaders and Shi’ite allies, like Sadr, on whom he depends for his position.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments have indicated the summit in Jordan will go ahead, despite a demand from Sadr, who wants an immediate U.S. withdrawal, that Maliki boycott the talks.
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