Six die in ‘undeclared civil war’


BAGHDAD – A car bomb killed six people Saturday near a Shiite shrine south of Baghdad, and the death toll from the deadliest attack of the year rose to nearly 90. A senior official warned Iraq was in an “undeclared civil war” that can be curbed only by a strong government and greater powers for security services.

With sectarian tensions rising, U.S. Marines on Saturday beat back the largest attack in weeks by Sunni Arab insurgents in the western city of Ramadi – another sign of the crisis facing this country three years after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces.

The car bomb exploded at a small shrine in the Euphrates River town of Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad. Police said most of the six dead and 14 wounded were Shiite pilgrims visiting the shrine.

Fears of more attacks are running high in Shiite areas following the Thursday car bombing that killed 10 in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and the suicide attack the following day against a Shiite mosque in Baghdad – the deadliest attack in Iraq this year.

The attacks on houses of worship have stoked tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, especially after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, an act that triggered reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics.

Despite the violence, U.S. officials have discounted talk of civil war. However, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday that an “undeclared civil war” had already been raging for more than a year.

“Is there a civil war? Yes, there is an undeclared civil war that has been there for a year or more,” Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal told The Associated Press. “All these bodies that are discovered in Baghdad, the slaughter of pilgrims heading to holy sites, the explosions, the destruction, the attacks against the mosques are all part of this.”

His comments were echoed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“Civil war has almost started among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and those who are coming from Asia. The situation is uneasy and I don’t know how Iraq would be brought together,” Mubarak said in an interview broadcast Saturday on Al-Arabiya satellite television.

Kamal said the country would still be spared from all-out sectarian war “if a strong government is formed, if the security forces are given wide powers and if they are able to defeat the terrorists.”

“Then we might be able to overcome this crisis,” he said.

The death toll from the Friday bombing of the Buratha mosque in north Baghdad rose to 85 because some of the wounded died, Dr. Riyadh Abdul Ameer of the Health Ministry said. Inot hear a call” for al-Jaafari to step down. But he added that “anything is possible.”

Khalid al-Attiyah, an independent member of the Shiite alliance, said several options were under discussion, including replacing al-Jaafari with Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who lost the February vote.

But al-Attiyah said al-Jaafari’s party would oppose that. Abdul-Mahdi is a member of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Other proposals include naming another candidate from Dawa or someone not affiliated with either of the two big Shiite parties, al-Attiyah said.