The Times November 27, 2006
Ned Parker, Baghdad and Tom Baldwin, Washington
Plea to politicians for end to feuding
Baghdad braced for new rampage
The Iraqi Prime Minister was looking increasingly precarious last night as domestic factions worked to undermine him and Washington leaders came close to writing him off.
Nouri al-Maliki went on television to urge rival politicians to stop feuding and to plead with Iraqis to halt their country’s slide towards civil war.
There were fears, however, that armed Sunni and Shia groups would go on the rampage today when a three-day ban on Baghdad traffic is lifted.
Mr al-Maliki announced that new measures would be taken to impose order, but did not give any details. Despite his appeals and several public appearances by Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders over the past three days, some government factions worked to promote a sectarian message.
State-run Iraqiya television has broadcast repeatedly an inflammatory meeting in Sadr City, where Shia government officials and citizens accused Sunni neighbourhoods of supporting terrorists. In turn al-Zawra, the banned Sunni television channel, aired footage of Sunni insurgents blowing up US Humvees and tanks. “We are waiting for the final chapter, for your Saigon moment,” a rebel commander bragged in a taunt to US President Bush.
Mahmoud Osman, a senior Kurdish politician, gave warning that Mr Maliki was too weak within his own Shia political coalition to stand up to hardliners who wish to fight the Sunnis. “The moderate elements do not have the upper hand.”
US commanders also doubt that Mr al-Maliki is willing to take on the Shia militias, whose political organisations form the backbone of his support. Mr Bush is hoping to shore up the credibility of the al-Maliki Government when the pair meet in Amman on Wednesday. Mr Bush will also reassure him that the US is not planning to quit in a hurry, despite growing domestic pressure.
The Republican Senator Sam Brownback, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, suggested a growing lack of faith in Mr al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, saying that Mr Bush should find a way of by-passing the al-Maliki Government. His colleague, Senator Chuck Hagel, called for troops to come home, saying: “The US can still extricate itself honourably from Iraq.” In Baghdad, a member of powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, furious over Thursday’s carnage in Sadr City that killed more than 200, bragged how they would take revenge.
Sunnis in western Baghdad are terrified that Iraqi units will assist the Mahdi Army or look the other way as they have done in the past, most famously in July when Shia gunmen set up checkpoints in al-Jihad neighbourhood and massacred 40 people on their way to work.
Yesterday afternoon, dozens of Shia gunmen made a push into the Sunni distict al-Adl, which borders Hurriya. A three-hour gunfight broke out near the home of a senior Sunni politician Adnan alDulaimi, reviled as a terrorist by many Shia nationalists.
The Times is the only British newspaper to maintain a full-time Baghdad bureau