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Iraq postpones reconciliation conference

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's government indefinitely postponed a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference yesterday as a two-day surge of sectarian revenge killings and insurgent bombings left at least 86 Iraqis dead.

Meanwhile, a militant network that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq announced in a video that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces.

This was viewed as a propaganda push in the network's drive to force the withdrawal of US forces and to topple the US-backed Iraqi government.

The Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups, said the new state was made up of six provinces, including Baghdad, that have large Sunni populations, and parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shi'ite.

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmud al-Meshhedani, derided the group's leaders as ``vulgar with no religion, who only kill others under the pretext of jihad." He added, ``This council caused the sectarian conflict as well as the displacement of both Shi'ites and Sunnis."

The militants' announcement appeared to be mainly symbolic, since no Iraqi insurgent group has the strength or authority to act as a rival government, and none controls territory. But it underscored the weakness of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and its inability to bring Iraq's deeply divided politicians together.

In announcing the postponement, the Ministry of State for National Dialogue said only that the conference, which was planned for Saturday, had been put off for ``emergency reasons."

The US military, meanwhile, said three Marines and four soldiers were killed in the period from Friday through yesterday.

Weekend killings among Shi'ites and Sunnis left at least 63 people dead in Balad, north of Baghdad, while 11 died yesterday in the northern city of Kirkuk.

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