Mass grave found north of Baghdad
Site contained remains of 100
BAGHDAD - A mass grave containing about 100 bodies was discovered yesterday in a region north of Baghdad that has seen years of intense fighting between Shi'ites and Sunni extremist members of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The discovery was made as Iraq's Sunni Parliament speaker called on the nation's Shi'ites and Kurds to work together with the minority he represents to pass an election law that would help reconcile Iraq's often warring sects and splinter groups.
The grave, near Khalis in Diyala Province about 50 miles north of Baghdad, is still being investigated, but the US military said the skeletal remains appear to have been there for a long time.
It was not immediately clear how the people had died, the military said.
Police Colonel Sabah al-Ambaqi said the grave was discovered in an orchard near Bu Tumaa, a Sunni village outside Khalis. He said authorities including both Iraqi and US forces were conducting a search when they uncovered the site.
Khalis is a Shi'ite town surrounded by Sunni communities and has been the scene of repeated sectarian attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq is active in the area, which has seen hundreds of kidnappings and mass abductions in past years.
Police in Diyala reported two separate bombings yesterday in which six people were killed.
In Basra, as many as 45,000 people took to the streets to protest deteriorating security in the southern city where Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for safety in December. Its Shi'ite residents are becoming increasingly alarmed about security, saying that killings, kidnappings, and other crimes have increased significantly since British forces turned over security responsibility.
In February, two journalists working for CBS were kidnapped in Basra. One was released but the other is still being held.
A long line of marchers demonstrated near the Basra police command headquarters, demanding that the police chief, Major General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, and the commander of joint military-police operation, Lieutenant General Mohan al-Fireji, resign.
The United States is in charge of security in Baghdad and other parts of central and northern Iraq, but they plan to hand those sections over to Iraqi forces eventually.
Iraq and the United States have been working on the terms of a security takeover for some time now, but the Defense Department said the negotiations formally began yesterday. Diplomats have been discussing agreements for a long-term relationship between the two countries and a deal that will define the legal basis for a US troop presence in the future.
Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said late Friday that the US goal is to complete a deal by December, when the UN Security Council resolution that now governs the coalition presence in Iraq expires.
Morrell would not discuss specifics, but said the final agreement "does not seek permanent bases, will not in any way codify the number of troops that will remain in Iraq; it will not tie the hands of a future commander in chief, it will not require Senate ratification, but we will make every effort to keep Congress apprised of progress in these talks."
Both sides see an agreement as the basis for establishing a normal state-to-state relationship, enabling Iraq to function with full sovereignty. To do so, Iraq must work toward national reconciliation between its sectarian groups, which includes holding provincial elections Oct. 1.
Parliament last month approved a bill that was to set up provincial elections. It was rejected by the Shi'ite member of Iraq's three member presidential council.
The disagreement over the proposed law comes over who has the right to appoint a local governor. The bill says it's the prime minister's prerogative, but some influential Shi'ites want the power to rest with provincial legislatures - where they have influence.
"We are seeking . . . a unified stance to go forward together in the right direction," Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said.
In a separate development, two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have asked for a full accounting of how Iraq is spending its oil revenues, The
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, the committee chairman, and Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, a former chairman, sent the letter Friday to David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office. They noted that Iraqi oil revenues could exceed $56 billion in 2008, largely because of the rising price of oil.
There have been conflicting estimates on how much the country has invested in reconstruction and social services.