BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced plans yesterday to extend a cash-for-weapons program for Shi'ite fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City to cities nationwide in an attempt to disarm the country.
The announcement came as fresh violence erupted in Baghdad and Mosul. Car bombs over a two-day period claimed at least 12 lives, and a militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, claimed to have beheaded two Macedonian hostages. US forces also reported new attacks against alleged terrorist strongholds in Fallujah.
Britain seen backing US request
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The government launched the cash-for-guns program in Sadr City as part of a deal to end weeks of fighting in the Shi'ite district of Baghdad and has twice extended the deadline for fighters to hand in their weapons.
Yesterday, Allawi told the National Council, a government oversight body, that the program is going so well he wants to extend it to the rest of Iraq.
''The government is determined to disarm cities and neighborhoods because our forces are now ready to fight terrorists and there's no justification for people to keep weapons at home," Allawi said.
Iraqi officials hope that Sunni Muslim leaders in the insurgent-torn city of Fallujah can be persuaded to negotiate a similar weapons buyback deal.
But Fallujah, the focal point of the Sunni rebellion, presents a tougher challenge.
The US military announced late yesterday that it had destroyed several safehouses and weapons storage sites linked to terror mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The statement did not specify whether the attacks were airstrikes, although such attacks have been frequent against the insurgent stronghold in recent weeks.
Iraqi officials insist they are seeking a peaceful solution to the standoff in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad. But hopes that peace talks could resume there quickly were dashed when the city's chief negotiator, Sheik Khaled al Jumeili, ruled out any quick resumption of talks despite his release yesterday from US custody.
''I'm negotiating on behalf of Fallujah people -- civilians, kids, women -- who have no power except by being represented by somebody," Jumeili told Al-Arabiya television. ''Since the situation has gotten to this, each can go wherever they want and we don't need to talk about negotiations."
Jumeili was detained Friday a day after talks broke down over the government's demand that the city hand over Zarqawi, who Fallujah's clerics claim isn't there.
Fallujah, considered a major militant stronghold, has been under a wave of aerial and ground attacks by US forces in a bid to root out Zarqawi and his group, Tawhid and Jihad. Tawhid and Jihad has claimed responsibility for numerous beheadings and suicide bombings, including two attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone last week that killed six, including four US civilians.
During his appearance before the National Council, Allawi said his government was still extending an ''olive branch" to Fallujah but added that ''we shall not be lenient in regard to the question of maintaining security and granting security to every Iraqi."
If negotiations fail to restore government control to Fallujah, US and Iraqi military leaders are expected to launch an all-out assault on the city. Fallujah fell under insurgent control after the Marines lifted their siege of the city in April.
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded late Sunday near a police patrol in the Jadiriyah district, killing six people, including three police officers, and wounding 26 others. The blast hit a cafe near the Australian Embassy, although there were no Australian casualties.
In Mosul, a car bomb detonated Sunday morning on a bridge, killing five Iraqis and wounding 15 others, the US military said yesterday. Another car bomber yesterday hit a civilian convoy, killing one and wounding four others.