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U.S. Warns Iraq About Political Factions With Sectarian Plans

By Sabrina Tavernise
and Robert F. Worth
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq issued an unusually strong warning on Monday about the need for Iraq’s political factions to come together, hinting for the first time that the United States would not be willing to support crucial public institutions plagued by sectarian agendas.

“The United States is investing billions of dollars” in Iraq’s police and Army, said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. “We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian.”

Khalilzad spoke at a news conference on a day of fresh violence across Iraq. It was the bloodiest day in almost two months.

He was addressing allegations that Shiite death squads operate within the Interior Ministry. Such reports have grown in recent months, with accounts of hundreds of Sunni men being rounded up by men in police uniforms and found dead days or weeks later.

The deaths have infuriated the Sunni Arabs, whose radical fringe leads the insurgency here, and have sharpened their distrust of the Shiite-led government that swept into power last spring.

Bombing attacks on Monday, including one inside a crowded commuter bus in Baghdad and another in a restaurant in northern Iraq, left at least 26 dead and more than 60 wounded. One U.S. soldier was also killed.

Also on Monday, an Iraqi government official said the number of confirmed human deaths from the avian flu virus have been just two, fewer than previously thought.

Iraqi political leaders are deep in negotiations over forming a government, more than two months after parliamentary elections.

U.S. officials have long argued that new Cabinet ministers should place the interests of their country over those of their sects. But by linking U.S. financing to a fair, nonpartisan army and police force, even if not intended as a direct threat, Khalilzad pressed the U.S. position more forcefully and publicly than before.

U.S. officials are working to draw Sunni Arabs into the new government in an effort to build a stable society and begin bringing U.S. troops home. Allaying Sunni concerns over overtly biased ministries is seen as an essential part of that effort.

Monday’s attacks, however, raised fresh fears of renewed violence.