p0233 BC-Iraq 04-21 0502 routed by j. schueler
Iraqi PM urges Arab states to open embassies in Baghdad
By SLOBODAN LEKIC
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD (AP) — Six people died in clashes in Baghdad’s embattled Sadr City on Monday, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged other Arab countries to reopen their embassies in the capital as a show of support for his government.
A police commander said the dead in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City included three policemen and three civilians. Four other civilians were injured in the violence, according to the officer who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to release the information.
The clashes between Shiite militiamen and government troops came after followers of hardline cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday raised the stakes in the showdown with al-Maliki’s government, refusing to disband their Mahdi Army.
Al-Maliki, also a Shiite, has demanded that al-Sadr dissolve the country’s biggest Shiite militia or his followers will not be allowed to run in provincial elections this fall.
The two sides have fought daily clashes in Baghdad since the prime minister launched an attack last month against the Mahdi Army in the southern port city of Basra. The militiamen have responded by shelling Baghdad’s U.S.-protected Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and offices of the Iraqi government.
This included an attack on the zone on Sunday during a surprise visit to Baghdad by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. During the talks, al-Maliki, assured Rice that he will not back down in his confrontation with the militants.
There are fears that the continuing bloodshed in the capital could lead to the formal scrapping of a unilateral truce al-Sadr called last August — a move that American officials credit with helping dramatically reduce violence over the last year.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover said there had been sporadic "harassment fire" overnight in the sprawling Sadr City district where the Mahdi Army has its main stronghold.
He said that an armed drone fired a Hellfire missile at a group of gunmen late Sunday, killing all three.
Meanwhile, al-Maliki urged Arab governments to cancel his country’s debts.
"Iraq cannot alone shoulder the debt arising from the military adventures of (Saddam Hussein’s) regime," al-Maliki told reporters on Monday as he departed for Kuwait, where he will attend a conference with Iraq’s neighbors and world powers. They will discuss ways to help Iraq secure its borders and improve internal security and stability.
He also urged other governments to open diplomatic missions in Baghdad. Most countries have been reluctant to do so due to safety concerns.
"I am a bewildered by the position of these nations. Do they want to support Iraq? Iraq has emerged from a crisis and needs to be supported," al-Maliki said.