BAGHDAD -- A prominent Shi'ite politician called yesterday for Iraqi forces to play a greater security role and for an end to ``interference in their work" -- an apparent reference to US efforts to curb abuses by the Shi'ite-led Interior Ministry.
The remarks by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the country's biggest Shi'ite party, came as the US military drafted plans to move up to 5,000 US troops with armored vehicles and tanks into Baghdad in an effort to quell escalating violence.
Hakim told thousands of supporters at a rally in the southern city of Najaf that the Americans should turn over more security responsibility to Iraqis and stop ``the interference in their work."
He said the surging violence was due to ``being lax in hunting down terrorists and upholding the wrong policies in dealing with them."
Sunni extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists are to blame for the violence, Hakim said. However, he also endorsed the government's pledge to disband militias, including those affiliated with Shi'ite politicians.
Hakim, the former commander of the feared Badr Brigade militia, has long complained Americans have interfered with Iraqi forces' efforts to crack down on Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists.
Those complaints grew more frequent after US troops raided an Interior Ministry lockup last November and found prisoners showing signs of torture. At the time, the ministry was controlled by Hakim's party and it still wields considerable influence, although the ministers were changed in May.
Members of his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq have been suspicious of US and Iraqi government peace overtures to Sunni insurgents and have privately complained that top Sunni politicians have intervened to free suspects picked up in Baghdad.
Hakim spoke a day after an attack including rockets, mortars, and a car bomb killed at least 31 people in Karradah, a mostly Shi'ite district in central Baghdad where Hakim and other top leaders of his party live.
A statement posted late Thursday on an Islamist website claimed responsibility in the name of the al-Sahaba Soldiers, a part of the Sunni extremist Mujahedeen Shura Council, which also includes Al Qaeda in Iraq. The statement said the attack was ``in response to Shi'ite crimes."
Hakim's speech marked the third anniversary of the death of his elder brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, who was killed by an Al Qaeda-linked car bomb attack in Najaf.
Hakim's party is a major player in the Shi'ite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The comments reflect divisions not only within the Iraqi government, but among Shi'ites on the best way to cope with sectarian violence, which US officials now believe is a greater threat to democracy in Iraq than the Sunni insurgency.
The insurgency and the sectarian attacks are essentially two fronts of the same conflict -- the struggle for power between Iraq's two major religious sects unleashed by the US-led invasion that swept away Hussein 's Sunni-dominated regime in 2003.
Many Sunni Arabs feared they would be marginalized in the new Iraq by the long-oppressed Shi'ites and Kurds who rose to power behind coalition tanks. Shi'ite activists believe many Sunnis would like to restore Hussein -style rule.
Three US Marines assigned to the Army's First Brigade, First Armored Division, were killed Thursday in action in Anbar Province, the US military said today. No further details were released. The deaths brought to 40 the number of Americans who have died in Iraq in July.
A four-hour vehicle ban reduced violence yesterday, the main Muslim day of worship. The ban has been imposed on Fridays for weeks to prevent bombings of mosques.
Nevertheless, four people were killed and nine wounded when a bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in southeast Baghdad, police Captain Ahmed Ali said. The blast struck after worshipers began leaving the al-Ali al-Aadhim mosque, despite a four-hour driving ban imposed by police.
Gunmen killed two civilians who worked for US troops in Tikrit, Hussein 's hometown 80 miles north of Baghdad, police said. In the nearby town of Beiji, a man who worked for the railroad was shot and killed.