Suicide bomber kills 58 as tensions rise in Baghdad

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The Independent Online

A suicide car-bomber killed at least 58 people in the mostly Shia town of Suwayra, near Baghdad. The attack increases the risk of sectarian warfare between Shias and Sunnis.

A suicide car-bomber killed at least 58 people in the mostly Shia town of Suwayra, near Baghdad. The attack increases the risk of sectarian warfare between Shias and Sunnis.

The bomber detonated the explosives in the vegetable market of the town, 25 miles south of the capital, yesterday, leaving no doubt that he intended to cause maximum civilian casualties. The Shia, 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, won the election in January which the Sunni boycotted and are forming a government. So far, they have not retaliated.

Earlier, at least a dozen bodies were found in a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Baghdad. Some of the dead had been blindfolded and shot in the head. They were found by scavengers searching the rubbish for items to sell.

At the central mortuary in Baghdad an official said families had identified some of the dead as farmers who had disappeared on their way to market. Some were dressed in traditional white robes and others in trousers and shirts. Some of the Sunni villages south of Baghdad are known as centres for Salafi, militant and fanatical Sunni, who see the Shia as infidels who are only worthy of death.

The balance between the Sunni, Shia and Kurds - the three main communities in Iraq - is changing, with the Shia intent on gaining the political power so long denied them.

The new army being rapidly trained by the Americans will be predominantly Shia and Kurd and will number 300,000 by the end of next year. The interior ministry will be run by a Shia minister.

The Shia coalition is determined not to be robbed of power at the last minute, despite US misgivings. It is almost universally believed among Shia leaders that their majority in the 30 January election was massaged downwards by electoral officials in order to increase the share of the vote of Iyad Allawi, the secular candidate and US-supported prime minister, from 7 to 8 per cent, up to 14 per cent. That was to keep the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia coalition, from getting close to the two-thirds majority that would have given it the ability to form a government alone.

The announcement of the result of the election was delayed for two weeks.

Many of the suicide bombers are frequently foreign Sunni Arabs from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Yemen. But the structure which supports them - supplying vehicles, explosives, detonators, intelligence and safe houses - is Iraqi. It has the ability to organise many attacks simultaneously in almost any part of Iraq.

There was another suicide attack in Tikrit yesterday which killed eight police officers in a minibus. The bus was destroyed when a silver Opel with a taxi sign on its roof exploded by the bus at a checkpoint. Some 270 people have been killed in the upsurge of violence since Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his new government on 28 April. He is expected to fill the last seven ministerial posts, including oil, defence and electricity today and the National Assembly will vote on them tomorrow.

* Militants holding an Australian engineer hostage have issued a 72-hour ultimatum for Australia to start pulling troops out of Iraq, al-Jazeera television reported yesterday.

The station did not specify what the militants would do if their deadline isn't met, but a number of previous hostages have been killed.

The station aired new footage of Douglas Wood with his head shaven and rifles pointed at his head.

Earlier in the day, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said a task force that rushed to Baghdad this week had established Mr Wood is still alive. Their comments came after newspapers reported the task force had been in contact with an intermediary, Sheik Hassan Zadaan.