Car bombs exploded in Baghdad, the town of Khallis north of the capital, the northern oil city of Kirkuk and Basra in the Shia south on Sunday, a day after Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, secured a pledge from tribal leaders to help stamp out sectarian violence and defeat insurgents.

On Sunday, Maliki said: "Violence has decreased and our security ability is increasing. We are not in civil war and will never be in civil war.

"What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation."

Gunmen
  
In Khallis, a religiously mixed town, gunmen stormed a market and cafe, killing 16 people and wounding 25, police said.
  
In one of the worst attacks of the day, a bomb blew apart a minibus in a busy commercial road in central Baghdad, killing nine people.
 
The minibus blast followed a car bomb attack on Iraq's best-selling newspaper, the government-owned al-Sabah, that killed two employees.

Falah al-Meshaal, the editor-in-chief, said the newspaper, part of the US-funded Iraqi Media Network that Sunni insurgents have attacked before, would be published as normal on Monday.

State of emergency

In Basra, where Maliki has imposed a state of emergency to deal with increasing violence fuelled by tensions between rival Shia factions, seven people were killed by a motorcycle bomb in a market, officials said.

Britain's new envoy to Iraq insisted on Sunday that, despite his predecessor's leaked view this month that civil war was a strong possibility, he was "optimistic" such an outcome could be avoided if Maliki could rally Iraqis behind him.
 
Police said 20 bodies had been found in parts of Baghdad on Saturday. Some bore signs of torture and most had been killed by gunshots to the head, a typical feature of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed.

"What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation."

Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister

Thousands of US and Iraqi troops have launched a major operation in Baghdad to pacify the capital. Violence claimed the lives of over 3,000 Iraqis in July, many of them in Baghdad.

Reconciliation

Maliki won support for his reconciliation plan from the tribal leaders gathered in Baghdad on Saturday, but it is unclear how influential they will be among Iraqis increasingly turning to religious leaders for guidance.
 
No major Sunni group has signed up to Maliki's plan and much of the violence now gripping the capital is the work of smaller groups on both sides of the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide. Sunnis say it is fuelled by militias linked to parties within the prime minister's Shia-dominated coalition.

Maliki's planned cabinet reshuffle would partly involve the political movement of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army has clashed repeatedly in recent weeks with US and Iraqi forces, several political sources said.

A key player in the government, Sadr denies his group runs sectarian death squads.

Government reshuffle   

Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister, told Reuters: "There will be a government reshuffle. There will be some changes in a number of cabinet portfolios."

Sadr denies being involved with
the death squad (file photo)


 
Salih said that the need to clamp down on sectarian and ethnic violence would not distract him from working to develop Iraq's vast potential oil wealth. Restoring prosperity could help rein in the killing, he said.

"Undeniably security has to rank at the top.

"But does that mean at the expense of the economy and services? You cannot. All these things are inter-related."

Salih said success in Iraq would have good consequences for the region and the rest of the world.
  
He said: "God forbid, failure in Iraq will be disastrous for everybody, not just for the people of Iraq."