But on Sunday, in the latest spasm of violence, a rocket attack on a Baghdad car park reportedly killed seven people, a bomb killed three US soldiers northwest of the capital and the bodies of six youths, with bullet wounds to the head, were found in the city.

With Shia militias and death squads operating unchecked and a Sunni revolt raging, George Bush said on Sunday he told the country's new leaders that they have a responsibility to stop the violence and to unite the country.

"I told them they have awesome responsibilities to their people," Bush said in Twentynine Palms, California, of his telephone calls on Sunday to Jawad al-Maliki, the prime minister-designate, Jalal Talabani, the president, and Mahmud Mashhadani, the new parliament speaker.

"They have a responsibility to defeat the terrorists. They have a responsibility to unite their country and I believe they will," Bush said.

Tough positions

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, on Sunday hailed al-Maliki as "an Iraqi patriot".

Bush urged al-Maliki in a phone
call on Sunday to unite Iraqis

"He's a tough-minded, strong leader and he has taken tough  positions against terrorists and the insurgency and the Baathists as well," Khalilzad stressed, adding that he hoped al-Maliki would deal with Iraq's militias.

But it was not clear whether al-Maliki would be a better fit for the Americans than his boss. He is number two in the fundamentalist Dawa party and considered a hardliner.

He spent time in Syria and reportedly has ties to the anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who runs one of Iraq's more prominent militias.

Green Zone attack

On Sunday, 11 mortar rounds exploded in central Baghdad, including three that hit the heavily guarded Green Zone, killing seven Iraqi civilians and wounding two, police said.

The Iraqi civilians were just entering the Green Zone at about 8am after making their way through several heavily guarded checkpoints when the three mortars exploded just inside its walls, police Lieutenant Maitham Abd al-Razzaq said.

Attacks on police and civilians
continue despite many arrests

Iraq's parliament meets in the compound on the banks of the Tigris River, and it also is home to the country's Defence Ministry and the US and British embassies.

Abd al-Razzaq said it was hard to identify the fatalities because the powerful explosions and shrapnel from the mortars had severed their limbs and destroyed their identification cards.

But he said one of the wounded Iraqis was a Defence Ministry employee.

Other mortar rounds exploded around the same time on the other side of the river near Iraq's Interior Ministry and the al-Shaab sports stadium, and police were checking to see if any damage or casualties had resulted from the blasts.

Breakthrough

The explosions, which were heard across the city, came one day after Iraq's parliament elected a president, two vice-presidents, a parliament speaker and two deputies.

The breakthrough in a long political standoff now gives al-Maliki 30 days to choose a cabinet from divided Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties.

In his first policy speech, he he would work to disband the country's numerous mainly militias, which are suspected to be behind most of the execution-style killings.

Baghdad remains a city torn by
violence despite tight security

But Iyad Allawi, Iraq's first post-war appointed prime minister, said the four-month delay in forming a government had already disillusioned Iraqis and undermined the fledgling democracy.

"It is crucial that the new government is now formed quickly in days, not weeks," Allawi said in a statement. "The Iraqi people will not understand nor accept further delays."

Bodies found

Also on Sunday, Iraqi police found the bodies of six young men, bound and with bullet holes in their heads, in Baghdad.

The bodies were found in the city's main Sunni district of al-Adhamiya, where confrontations between its inhabitants and Iraqi forces broke out last week.

Interior Ministry sources said the bodies were dumped on the side of a road.

Hundreds of bodies, many bearing signs of torture, have been found in Baghdad since sectarian tensions exploded following last February bombing of a shrine the Shia hold as sacred.