June 6, 2006

Nine severed heads found in Iraq

By Fredrik Dahl and Mariam Karouny

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Nine severed heads were found in the
latest atrocity in a volatile area north of Baghdad on Tuesday,
police said, as Iraqi leaders faced a crisis over filling key
security jobs critical to ending rampant bloodshed.

Police in the city of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of the
capital, said the heads were discovered in plastic bags in its
northern al-Hadid district. No other details were immediately

It was the second such gruesome discovery in or near Baquba
in the last few days. On Saturday, police said they found the
cut-off heads of seven cousins and an Sunni Arab Imam by the
side of the road outside Baquba.

Baquba is the main city of Diyala province, a religiously
mixed area that has seen frequent guerrilla attacks aimed at
toppling the U.S.-backed, Shi'ite led government and other
sectarian violence.

Also in Diyala, gunmen on Sunday dragged 24 people, mostly
students, out of their cars and shot them dead. The victims
included Shi'ite Turkmen, one of Iraq's ethnic minorities.

Such violence underscores the monumental task new Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces in averting a slide toward civil
war in the ethnically and religiously divided country of 26
million people.

The formation of his self-styled government of national
unity on May 20 raised hopes both in Iraq and abroad that it
would be able to defuse relentless killings.

But powerful factions within the government have so far
failed to agree on the new interior and defense ministers, left
vacant when Maliki took office less than three weeks ago due to
intense wrangling.

Political sources said Maliki's rivals in his ruling
Shi'ite Alliance had objected to his choice for interior
minister, a job that also includes being in charge of police.

Officials in the Alliance and other blocs question whether
his government can survive the combined pressure of internal
rivalries and a wave of killings that seem to spare no one.


The United States, keen to see improvement on the ground so
that it can start withdrawing its 133,000 troops in Iraq, hopes
Maliki will name ministers who can start restoring stability.

"To his great credit the reason he has not yet put them in
place is because he was determined that they be competent and
that they govern from the center," Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.

"And that is why it is taking so darn long for them to get
those people in place," the Australian newspaper quotes him as

In Baghdad, gunmen shot dead the second head of a Baghdad
district council in as many days, medical sources said.

Thoaban Abdul Kathim, of the western al-Jihad district, was
shot dead along with an aide and his driver while they were
heading to their office, they said.

It came a day after the killing of his counterpart in
Baghdad's Mansour district, also shot with his driver. Medical
sources said the same type of bullets were used in the two

South of Baghdad, an Italian soldier was killed and four
others were wounded on Monday when a bomb blew up the vehicle
they were traveling in about 100 km (60 miles) from their base
in Nassiriya in southern Iraq, the Italian army said.

Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who took office last
month, has vowed to live up to campaign promises for a swift
pull-out of Italy's military presence of around 2,600 troops.
He recently called the Iraq war a "grave error."