Sixty killed as suicide bombers hit Baghdad Shia in work queue

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The Independent US

More than 60 people were killed in Iraq yesterday as an increasingly isolated President George Bush met advisers to prepare a new strategy for tackling the unceasing violence. Officials said the President would be unlikely to announce the new policy for Iraq before Christmas.

Two bombs that exploded within seconds of each other targeted day-labourers looking for work in Baghdad. Scores of people were injured, and in a separate incident, a TV cameraman working for the Associated Press was shot dead, reportedly by insurgents.

Witnesses said the attacks in Baghdad's Tayaran Square involved a suicide bomber who approached the group of Shia day-labourers claiming he was interested in hiring them. As they climbed into his minibus, a bomb was detonated. At the same moment, a bomb was set off in a car parked 30 yards away. Some reports said as many as 71 people had been killed.

Khalil Ibrahim, a local shop owner told the Associated Press: "In the first explosion, I saw people falling over, some of them blown apart. When the other bomb went off seconds later, it slammed me into a wall of my store and I fainted."

In White House meetings yesterday, President Bush consulted senior military commanders, his outgoing defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement Robert Gates, and was later to hold a meeting with the visiting Iraqi Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the most powerful Sunni Arab party in Iraq.

Mr Bush has been under growing pressure to announce a new strategy since the Republicans' resounding defeat in the mid-term elections and, even more so, since the publication last week of the report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) which called for regional diplomacy, a boosting of Iraqi security forces with US trainers and withdrawal of most combat troops by 2008.

But a White House official told reporters that it was "more likely" Mr Bush would lay out his new plan after 25 December. "He's been pushing the bureaucracy pretty hard," said the official. "There's still work to be done. The key here is to get it done right."

Much of the discussion among the President and his advisers has apparently focused on efforts to persuade the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to do more to tackle armed militias. This is likely to be easier said than done; there are many militias operating in Iraq, all with competing political loyalties, and the government's resources for dealing with security issues are sparse.

Some critics have said Mr Maliki is unwilling to act because one of his leading backers is the Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the Mehdi Army, one of the largest and most powerful militias. The ISG report suggested withholding US support for the Iraqi government if it failed to reach a series of milestones. Yesterday, amid reports that two major partners in his coalition government had been holding talks about ways of reducing the cleric's influence, Mr Maliki said there was no alternative to his government.

"What is going on now is positive when the aim, contrary to what has been said, is to broaden the government's political base and not an attempt to undermine its ideology or to search for alternatives," he said. "There is no alternative in Iraq for this national unity government because it is the guarantee for the political process to continue."

The Court of Appeal in London has rejected an attempt by the mothers of two British soldiers killed in Iraq to force the Government to hold a public inquiry into the war. "Such an inquiry would inevitably involve, not only questions of international law, but also questions of policy, which are essentially matters for the executive and not the courts," the court ruled.