Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraq national conference postponed

DIVIDED THEY FALL The decision to postpone the reconciliation meeting reflects the upheaval which growing violence has had on attempts to stabilize the government


Iraq's government indefinitely postponed a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference as a two-day spree of sectarian revenge killings and insurgent bombings left at least 86 Iraqis dead.

Meanwhile, a militant network that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq announced in a video released on Sunday that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces, a propaganda push in its drive to force the withdrawal of US forces and topple the US-backed Iraqi government.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council -- an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq -- said the new state was made up of six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shiite.

Responding to the statement, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Meshhedani, derided the group's leaders as "vulgar with no religion, who only kill others under the pretext of jihad [holy war]."

"Those who believe in this council are ignorant and those who follow it are foolish," al-Meshhedani said. "This council caused the sectarian conflict as well the displacement of both Shiites and Sunnis."

The militants' announcement appeared mainly symbolic, since no Iraqi insurgent group has the strength or authority to act as a rival government and none controls territory.

It underscored, however, the weakness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and its inability to bring Iraq's deeply divided politicians together.

In announcing postponement of the reconciliation conference, the Ministry of State for National Dialogue said only that the gathering, which was planned for Saturday, had been put off for "emergency reasons out of the control of the ministry."

The move reflected the upheaval that worsening violence has wrought on efforts to stabilize the government and curb bloodshed.

The postponement could deeply damage the al-Maliki administration, which took office just over four months ago vowing to implement a 24-point National Reconciliation plan to heal the nation's severe political wounds.

Al-Maliki did not comment on the postponement, but issued a message to the Iraqi people on Sunday praising them for approving the country's first post-Saddam Hussein Constitution exactly one year ago, while acknowledging the document's adoption had intensified the insurgency.

"It is your vote on the Constitution that forced the terrorists ... to commit horrific massacres against innocent civilians and violate the sanctity of holy places, destroy infrastructure, obstruct reconstruction and services," he said.

Weekend revenge killings among Shiites and Sunnis left at least 63 people dead in Balad, a city north of Baghdad, while 11 people died on Sunday in a series of apparently coordinated bombings of a girls school and other targets in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Extra police flooded into Balad to enforce a curfew and additional security measures were taken in other villages in the region around Kirkuk, 290km north of Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Also on Sunday, the US military announced Iraq's Central Criminal Court had sentenced an al-Qaeda member to death and convicted 64 others on charges of belonging to armed groups and other crimes.

The military's statement did not name the man condemned to death, but said he was a "known member of the al-Qaeda organization."

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