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Bombing kills 14 near Shi'ite shrine

Key US diplomat predicts Iraq will see progress by fall

BAGHDAD -- America's second-ranking diplomat in Iraq predicted progress by fall on bringing together Iraq's feuding factions as violence claimed more lives yesterday, including 14 people killed in a late-night car bombing near a Shi'ite shrine in the capital.

In all, at least 60 Iraqis were killed or found dead across the country, most of them in the Baghdad area, according to police reports. Also yesterday, one American soldier was killed and four were wounded in a roadside bombing in east Baghdad, the US command said.

US officials have been pressing the Iraqis to enact a series of laws designed to bring together the country's warring factions, curb the violence, and stop the slide in support for the US mission among the American people and Congress.

During a news conference yesterday, US diplomat Daniel Speckhard said he was hopeful that the Iraqis would make progress on "some" legislation by September.

That's when General David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are to submit a report on prospects for ending the violence.

The report is expected to mark a watershed in the troubled American effort to build a stable democracy in Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"We're in a very significant period of political turmoil. . . . But we do expect Iraqis to work through these issues," Speckhard told reporters. "My expectations are still that they'll rise to the challenge of producing some key legislation by September."

Speckhard said much work has been done in Iraq's parliament on a US-backed law that would regulate the oil industry and distribute revenues among all the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.

Other "benchmark" bills would amend the constitution, allow many former members of Hussein's Ba'ath party to get back government jobs, and arrange new elections for provincial posts.

All those measures have stalled because of political divisions within the Cabinet and parliament.

In a bid to overcome those differences, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said two major Shi'ite parties had signed a "charter of honor" to form a new, streamlined Cabinet of technocrats whose members would be appointed on merit and not sectarian affiliation.

The aide, Hassan al-Suneid, said the two major Kurdish parties would sign the pact soon. It was unclear whether the biggest Sunni party was ready to sign on too.

Despite talk of progress, violence continued yesterday.

In the deadliest attack, at least 14 people were killed and 22 were wounded when a parked car exploded near a major Shi'ite shrine in the Kazimiyah district of northern Baghdad, police said. The victims were mostly local residents enjoying a warm summer evening.

Elsewhere, five policemen were killed in a bombing in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Four other policemen died when gunmen attacked a police station in the Bashir area about 15 miles south of Kirkuk, police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir said.

In Baghdad, three rockets or mortars slammed into the fortified Green Zone, which includes major US and Iraqi offices. There were no reports of casualties there.

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