U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq May 15. In press interviews Rice said she discussed with Iraqi government officials the importance of including Sunnis in drafting the countrys constitution. She also accused the government of Syria of standing in the way of the Iraqi peoples desire for peace, charging that Damascus allows former leaders of the Baath Party regime of Saddam Hussein to use Syrias border areas to stage attacks inside Iraq on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces.
Rice arrived in Baghdad as the U.S. military announced the end of Operation Matador, aimed at armed groups loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who leads al-Qaeda in Iraq.
At least 489 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in bombings and executed after being kidnapped since the official commencement of the new government on April 28, according to the Associated Press. Wealthy Sunnis have been the main financiers and organizers of groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has taken responsibility for numerous bombing attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops, as well as kidnappings and beheadings of hostages. The Hussein regime had its largest base of support among such layers of Sunnis.
The bodies of 30 men, including 10 Iraqi soldiers, were found shot execution-style in three separate areas in Iraq May 15. Nearly half the bodies were discovered in Sadr City. Last year militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fought fierce battles against U.S. troops in this largely Shiite working-class section of Baghdad.
At least 72 Iraqis were killed in car bombings in northern and central portions of Iraqi on May 11 alone.
In the largely Sunni city of Tikrit 32 Iraqis were killed and 90 injured in a car bomb attack. Many of those killed were construction workers who believed the driver of the vehicle had slowed down to offer them work. Ansar al-Sunna, a group reportedly allied with al-Zarqawi, released a statement on a web site asserting that it launched the attack to target infidel workers at a U.S. military base.
In January, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), an electoral bloc supported by Iraqs leading Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, won a slight majority in elections for the National Assembly. The UIA formed a coalition government with the main Kurdish parties, which won the second largest bloc of seats. UIA leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was selected prime minister, appointed several Sunni politicians to key positions in his cabinet in an effort to draw Sunnis into the government and weaken support for Baathist-led armed groups.
In interviews during her visit to Iraq Rice stressed that while Sunnis largely boycotted the January elections they must be included in the new government and in writing the constitution. Two Sunnis are currently included in the 55-member committee to draft the constitution.
Rice also told Al Arabiya News that Washington has very grave concern that Syria is a place in which terrorists are gathering and transiting into Iraq.
The day before Rice arrived in Baghdad, the U.S. military announced the wrap-up of a weeklong offensive against supporters of al-Zarqawi in western Iraq, just two miles from the Syrian border. U.S. Marine officials told the American Forces Information Service, a Pentagon publication, that al-Qaeda in Iraq uses the area as a staging ground for attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad, and Mosul.
With a battle group of 1,000 Marines, it was the largest U.S. military operation since the assault on Baathist strongholds in Fallujah last November. The Marines were backed up by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, according to AP. The U.S. military said it killed 125 of al-Zarqawis supporters but many others escaped.
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