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Iraq says violence killed 952 in April

Talabani calls on clerics to help stop bloodshed

BAGHDAD -- President Jalal Talabani urged Iraq's feuding factions yesterday to unite against surging crime and terrorism, as the government reported 952 people were killed nationwide last month in what it described as terrorist violence -- most of them civilians.

Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla commander, said Iraqis feel ''shock, dismay, and anger" at the ongoing slaughter, including attacks by sectarian death squads that torture and kill their victims before dumping the mutilated bodies in the streets.

''What is asked of the political parties is that they strenuously and clearly condemn these crimes, regardless of who the perpetrators are," Talabani said in a statement. ''Clerics -- be they Muslim, Christians, Shi'ite, or Sunni -- from all factions should also issue edicts rejecting these acts."

Figures from the ministries of health and interior showed that during April, 686 civilians were killed nationwide in politically motivated violence, along with 190 insurgents, 54 policemen and 22 Iraqi soldiers.

Eighty-two coalition troops -- including 76 Americans, three Italians, one Romanian, one Briton, and one Australian -- died in Iraq during the same period.

The ministries' figures for previous months were not available last night.

At least 3,550 Iraqis, including civilians, officials, and security forces, have been killed in war-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally. That includes at least 615 in January, 741 in February, 1,038 in March, and 801 in April.

US officials say the relentless bloodshed adds new urgency to efforts by Iraq's religiously and ethnically based parties to complete formation of a government.

In yesterday's violence, gunmen northeast of Baghdad stopped a bus carrying employees of a state-run electronics firm, ordered the women off, and shot the men, company spokesman Adnan Hamad said.

The gunmen then booby-trapped the bus. When rescuers opened the door, a bomb exploded. In all, 11 people were killed and six wounded, Hamad said.

At least 15 other people were killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq.

US officials believe a new national unity government can -- over time -- restore public confidence, calm sectarian tensions, undercut the Sunni-dominated insurgency, and enable American and other international troops to go home.

Tortuous negotiations have been underway for months to organize the new government, and incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said he expected to complete the final stage -- the appointment of his Cabinet -- this week.

Maliki's spokesman, Salah Abdul-Razaq, said the Shi'ite leader was hopeful the task could be completed by Sunday. However, Abdul-Razaq said some factions were objecting to the formula for distributing Cabinet posts, raising the possibility of further delays.

The spokesman said Maliki insisted that the new ministers of defense and interior ''be independents and outside the factions." US and British officials have insisted that the new heads of those ministries, which control the army and police, not be linked to parties that operate militias blamed in sectarian killings.

But the Shi'ite alliance has insisted on retaining the Interior Ministry, and officials said Tuesday that the Sunnis and Kurds had accepted that demand.

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