Toll rises as Iraq attacks continue

Justice minister offers to quit after cabinet approves plan to shift Kirkuk's Arabs.

    The Sadr City car bomb which killed five and wounded 22 people was one of Saturday's deadliest [AFP]

    A suicide car bomb targeting workers has killed two people and wounded 11 in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 70km south of Kirkuk, the local police chief said.

    Also, in the largely Shia town of Suweira, south of Baghdad, three civilians were killed and seven wounded in a roadside bomb explosion.


    Tal Afar


    The Iraqi interior ministry has raised the death toll in the Tuesday truck bombing in Tal Afar, a mainly Shia city in northwest of Iraq, to 152, making it the deadliest single attack since the war began four years ago.


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    Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a ministry spokesman, said on Saturday that more than 70 additional bodies had been found in the marketplace rubble.


    Colonel Ibrahim Al-Jubori, the new police chief in Tal Afar, reported his force had found four more victims of apparent Shia revenge attacks on Sunni men on Tuesday.


    The bodies were shot multiple times and showed signs of torture, he said.


    Lieutenant-Colonel Malcom Frost, commander of US forces in Tal Afar, said: "We're still doing rubble removal so there could still be bodies buried."


    Kirkuk relocation


    In other news, the Iraqi government has endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to oil-rich Kirkuk as part of campaign by Saddam Hussein to displace ethnic Kurds, a cabinet minister said on Saturday. 


    Hashim al-Shebli, the Iraqi justice minister, said the cabinet agreed on Thursday to a study group's recommendation that Arabs who had moved to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq after July 14, 1968, should be returned to their original towns and paid for their trouble.


    Tens of thousands of Kurds and non-Arabs fled Kirkuk in the 1980s and 1990s when Saddam's government implemented its "Arabisation" policy. Kurds and non-Arabs were replaced with pro-government Arabs from the mainly Shia impoverished south.


    Voluntary transfer


    Al-Shebli, who had overseen the committee on Kirkuk's status, said relocation would be voluntary. Those who choose to leave will be paid 20 million Iraqi dinars ($15,000) and given land in their former hometowns.


    He said: "There will be no coercion and the decision will not be implemented by force."


    Ali Baban, the planning minister, said the cabinet decision in favour of the relocation recommendations was adopted over the opposition of Sunni Arab members of the Shia-led government.


    "We demanded that the question of Kirkuk be resolved through dialogue between the political blocs and not through the committee," he said earlier this week.


    "They say the repatriation is voluntary, but we have our doubts."


    Resignation offer


    Al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, also confirmed he had offered his resignation on the same day that the cabinet signed off on the plan.


    He cited differences with the government and his own political group, the secular Iraqi List, which joined Sunni Arab politicians on Saturday in opposing the Kirkuk decision.


    He said he would continue in office until the cabinet approved his resignation.


    "I have differences with the government on one side and with the parliamentary bloc on another." 


    The Iraqi List is led by Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, a secular Shia.


    The group holds 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament.


    Military deaths


    Figures complied by The Associated Press have shown that the US military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army.


    US military deaths are double that of Iraq's
    despite the Iraqi army's leading role [AFP]

    American and Iraqi officials say the Iraqi army has been taking more of a leading role than the US in the latest attempt to curb violence in many cities in Iraq.


    The AP count of US military deaths for the month was 81, including a soldier who died from non-combat causes on Saturday.


    Figures compiled from officials in the Iraqi ministries of defence, health and the interior showed the Iraqi military toll was 44.


    Iraqi figures showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March. Many of the police serve in paramilitary units.


    According to the AP count 3,246 US service members have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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