Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

At least 19 killed in Baghdad attacks

BLOODY SUNDAY As the new Iraqi Cabinet met for the first time, violence raged across Baghdad, while Italy said it would start planning a troop withdrawal next week

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

A woman gestures at the scene after two roadside bombs exploded in a crowded fruit market in New Baghdad killing three civilians and wounding 23 yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki yesterday vowed to use "maximum force against terrorism," as bombs exploded in Baghdad during the first meeting of his national unity Cabinet.

Briefing reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Maliki said, however, that his government would hold out the offer of dialogue to those prepared to renounce violence.

"We will use maximum force against terrorism, but we also need a national initiative," he said.

Maliki's Cabinet of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds was formed in the hope that a broad-based coalition will ease sectarian violence and consolidate a US-piloted transition to democracy.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a key power broker behind the scenes in Baghdad, said the formation of the government, with crucial involvement from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's once dominant fellow Sunnis, brought US troops closer to going home.

"I believe that, with the political changes taking place -- the emphasis on unity and reconciliation, with effective ministers ... -- that conditions are likely to move in the right direction and that would allow adjustment in terms of the size, composition and mission of our forces," he said.

"We are going to be moving in the direction of downsizing our forces. But that is always dependent on the conditions," Khalilzad said.

Maliki, outlining his program to parliament, said his government aimed to complete rebuilding Iraq's armed forces with "an objective timetable for ... the end of the tasks of the multinational forces and their return to their countries."

A suicide bomber killed at least 12 people and injured 14 after detonating his explosive vest inside a downtown Baghdad restaurant popular with police officers, police said.

The 12 dead included three police officers, said Police Colonel Abbas Mohammed.

In the second of yesterday's bomb attacks two devices exploded in a crowded fruit market in New Baghdad, a mixed area in an eastern part of the capital, said police Lieutenant Ali Abbas.

Police found the first bomb and detonated it after trying to evacuate the market, Abbas said. But a second hidden bomb exploded moments later, killing three civilians and wounding 23, all of whom had ignored the evacuation order, he said.

Earlier, a roadside bomb on the eastern bank of the Tigris killed three people and wounded 24 in a blast apparently targeting Iraqi police in a busy commercial street.

Elsewhere gunmen killed Ali Abdul-Hussein al-Kinani, 57, who was standing outside his food store in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Ubaidi, said a police spokesman.

Meanwhile Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on Saturday that the Italian government would begin planning the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq next week.

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