Violence threatens Iraqi coalition

More than 120 Iraqis, mostly Shiites, were killed Thursday in insurgent attacks.

Postelection violence throughout Iraq over the past two days that killed more than 150 mostly Shiite civilians is straining talks intended to forge a new coalition government, say politicians close to the negotiations continuing between newly elected Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish politicians.

Thursday one official with the largest Shiite political party watched images from the aftermath of a suicide bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, his hometown, that killed at least 50 people and wounded 69. The bomber blew himself up near the shrine of Imam Hussein, whose death during a battle in Karbala cemented the Sunni-Shiite split.

Also Thursday, insurgents, who are mostly Sunni Arab, killed at least 70 people in Ramadi in a suicide attack; more than 30 Shiites attending a funeral were killed Wednesday.

"Did you see what happened in Karbala today? Sunni Arabs must condemn strongly, and clearly, the terrorists," says an official from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who asked his name not be used. "We don't want to deal with someone who in the day is with the political process but at night is with the terrorists."

The violence mainly directed at Shiite Iraqis comes at a delicate moment for Iraq as Shiites - who won a majority in the Dec. 15 vote - and Kurds are locked in negotiations to form a coalition government. While Shiites have maintained they want to bring minority Sunni Arabs into the government, the attacks and the inability of Sunni Arab politicians to come out strongly against the insurgents may threaten an inclusive coalition.

The Sunni Arabs are "brothers" and "friends" with us, says the SCIRI official but his group of Shiite leaders, who will hold the majority in the new parliament, are frustrated with Sunni Arab leaders emerging after December's vote who have been ambivalent about denouncing the violence.

"Even the [newly elected Sunni groups] Islamic Party and Tawafaq, they don't condemn terrorism clearly," says the SCIRI official who is directly involved in negotiations to form the new government. "The Sunnis tell us the rationale is that they fear speaking out. It is not justifiable [for them to] say "we are afraid."

But the Sunnis say they are already doing enough to decry the violence.

"We have many statements condemning such terrorist attacks," says Naseer al Ani, a top official in the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party's political bureau. "Terrorism is killing innocent Iraqis and [the] resistance is targeting the American [troops]. We only support the resistance."

A senior official in the Iraqi Accordance Movement, the main minority Sunni coalition, also denounced the violence and called for solidarity among Iraqis to defeat it, but blamed the government for allowing it to happen.

"This government has not only failed to end violence, but it has become an accomplice in the cycle of violence by adopting sectarian policies and by weakening the state and strengthening militia groups," Izzat al-Shahbandar said.

But mostly it is only the Shiite officials who find their way to TV cameras after such attacks to denounce them, and imams in Shiite mosques who decry them during Friday prayers.

In fact, the Iraqi Islamic Party and two other groups that make up the leading Sunni Arab list of candidates used their ties to the insurgency to bolster their campaigns.

Now they have to tread a careful line between open support for the insurgency - which could land them in US custody - and advertising such ties to give them credibility in the eyes of many Sunni Arabs. Indeed, a leader of the Islamic Party was detained by US troops and Sunni candidate Adnan Dulaimi's home last fall was searched by American soldiers who believed each had ties to the insurgency.

Decrying what many Sunni Arabs see as legitimate resistance to persecution from Shiite forces and US troops would help in the political negotiations, but it may leave Sunni Arab leaders at odds with a constituency they have only recently won.

Last year Sunni Arabs boycotted elections for an interim parliament, leaving the Shiites and Kurds to divide power among themselves. Now, Shiites and Sunni Arabs, who are locked in low-grade, tit-for-tat warfare on the streets in many areas, have to sit down and talk seriously about dividing up power with the emotional backdrop of bombings and kidnappings.

Many Sunni Arab political groups are still waiting to decide if they will even consider the election valid after more than 1,500 complaints were filed about irregularities.

Wire service material was used in this report.

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