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Attacks in Iraq Leave Many Dead as Talks Pause on Autonomy

By Richard A. Oppel Jr.
and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi


Suicide bombers attacked a market in Tal Afar and the Iraqi police in Ramadi on Monday, killing at least 23 people, as political leaders in the capital struggled to reach a deal that would end the fight over splitting Iraq into autonomous states.

The worst attack was in Tal Afar, where a bomber wearing an explosive vest killed 21 people and wounded 17 others when he blew himself up near a line of people waiting to receive their allotment of cooking fuel, according to Iraqi state television.

Tal Afar, a dusty, agrarian city of a quarter-million in northwestern Iraq, has been the scene of fierce battles over the past two years as American troops have fought to wrest control of the area from groups affiliated with al-Qaida and from other insurgents.

Two suicide bombs struck the police in Ramadi, the restive capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad. News agencies quoted Iraqi officials as saying that 13 people had been killed. But an American military spokeswoman said U.S. forces in the area had counted two dead, both Iraqi policemen.

Early Tuesday morning, the American military released statements disclosing two new combat deaths: One soldier killed by a roadside bomb in northeastern Baghdad on Sunday afternoon, and another killed by small-arms fire in north-central Baghdad, also on Sunday afternoon.

Negotiators from major Iraqi political blocs met late Monday in an effort to resolve the bitter fight over how soon Shiite provinces in the south can break off into autonomous regions with substantial control over their security and the billions of barrels of oil beneath southern Iraq.

A faction of Shiites and Kurds led by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, a powerful Shiite party with close ties to Iran, proposed a compromise on Monday, according to an adviser to Khalid al-Atiya, a deputy parliament speaker and one of the negotiators for the faction.

The SCIRI faction wants to pass a bill in parliament that would give provinces a quick route to forming autonomous regions, which are allowed by the new constitution’s “federalism” provisions.

But furious Sunni Arab leaders say the constitution might not have even been approved in last October’s referendum had it not been for their last-minute support. And they gave that support only after a provision was added that called for portions of the constitution to be renegotiated as soon as parliament was called into session. But that has not happened.

Under the new proposal, according to the aide to al-Atiya, parliament would form a committee to propose constitutional amendments, as sought by the Sunnis. At the same time, parliament would proceed with the federalism proposal backed by SCIRI and the Kurds, but the law would not become effective for one year, or until after the constitutional committee finished deciding whether to propose amendments.