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Rival Iraq MPs come to blows in cafe: Parliament source

BAGHDAD: Two rival Iraqi lawmakers came to blows Sunday at a time of rising tension between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite bloc and a Sunni-backed alliance, according to a parliamentary source.

The increasingly frayed ties between the two camps, which finished neck-and-neck in March 2010 elections and are now part of a national unity government, have sparked concern over major issues left unresolved.

The fight started after Kamal Saadi from Maliki’s State of Law alliance beat the Sunni-backed Iraqiya party’s Haidar al-Mulla with his walking stick inside the parliamentary cafe, the source said.

“Saadi beat Mulla with his cane, and when he tried to react, other MPs pulled them apart,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

During a television interview Saturday evening, Mulla made seemingly insulting charges against Saadi, which led to the altercation, the source added.

“Mulla said in the media that I am a liar. I asked him to apologize, but he didn’t,” Saadi said, denying however that a fight had taken place.

Tensions have been rising between Maliki and Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi, whose party won last year’s elections by a slender margin but was unable to muster the seats for a majority.

Maliki, whose bloc finished second in last year’s poll, became prime minister after more than nine months of deadlock and infighting.

Last week, Maliki charged his political rivals were trying to sabotage government projects in an effort to portray him as ineffective.

Newspapers have quoted official sources as saying that Maliki had accused Allawi of organizing Friday’s anti-government protests in Baghdad and several other cities.

“The current verbal dispute between Maliki and Allawi is the worst in months between the two biggest blocs in government,” said Al-Adala newspaper in an editorial.

“The dispute comes at a time when major controversial issues should be heading toward a solution.”

Hundreds took to the streets to denounce what they said was a lack of government progress after a 100-day deadline set by Maliki.

In Baghdad, thousand of pro-government supporters also showed up to shift the focus.

Elsewhere, twin car bombings in northern Iraq, and separate attacks on the homes of a schoolteacher and a human rights activist left at least 11 people dead Saturday, government officials said.

Police and hospital officials in the northern city of Mosul said two car bombs exploded in quick succession, killing six people. At least one of the bombs seemed aimed at a police patrol.

Mosul is Iraq’s third-largest city, 360 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. It has been one of the most stubborn insurgent strongholds.

Abdul-Rahim al-Shimmari, a member of the provincial council, said 52 people were wounded in the blast.

Security forces opened fire randomly in all directions after the first explosion said Mahir al-Abbawi, the owner of a nearby shop.

“After about four minutes, we saw a ball of fire coming out of another car that was about 10 meters away from the first explosion,” he said. Abbawi said he could see people bleeding and women and children screaming and crying.

In another attack, eight gunmen stormed the house of a teacher overnight and killed his three sons and daughter, said Mohammad al-Asi, the spokesman for central Salahuddin Province.

He said the gunmen were in a minibus and fled after the midnight attack in a village outside of Tikrit. Authorities were investigating whether the killings were an act of insurgents or tribal conflict, he added.

Police in Abu Ghraib found the body of a human rights activist, Namir Ryhan, inside his home, a police and hospital official said. The officials said the assailants beheaded Ryhan.

Iraqis blast U.S. congressman’s war repayment idea

BAGHDAD: The suggestion by a U.S. congressman that Iraq repay the U.S. for the money it has spent in the country has stirred anger, with an Iraqi lawmaker ridiculing the idea as “stupid” and others saying Iraqis should be compensated for the hardships they’ve endured.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, suggested during a trip to Baghdad with fellow lawmakers Friday that once Iraq becomes a rich and prosperous country, it could repay the U.S.

That comment triggered outrage among an Iraqi public and political establishment that had little or no say in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

“We as a government reject such statements, and we have informed the American Embassy that these congressmen are not welcome in Iraq,” said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh Sunday.

The head of the Iraqi parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Humam Hmoudi, called his comments “stupid” and said it is the Iraqi people who should demand compensation. “This provokes us and the Iraqi people as well to demand compensations for losses Iraq suffered during the invasion,” he said.

Another MP from one of the main political blocs, Etab al-Douri, called the repayment idea a “humiliation.” “We are the ones who should ask for compensation and not them, and we demand the occupiers to withdraw now,” she said.

The row comes at a particularly sensitive time in the U.S.-Iraq relationship. Iraq is weighing whether to ask U.S. troops to stay in the country longer.

The U.S. Embassy sought to distance itself from Rohrabacher’s comments.

Ambassador James F. Jeffrey emphasized in an interview with Iraqi state TV Sunday that the visiting congressmen do not speak for the U.S. administration.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2011, on page 8.

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