Iraq's prime minister pledges to forcefully stamp out terror

Published May 22, 2006

BAGHDAD - Iraq's new prime minister promised Sunday to use "maximum force" if necessary to end the brutal insurgent and sectarian violence racking the country, while a suicide bomber killed more than a dozen people at a restaurant in downtown Baghdad.

Although he focused on the need to end bloodshed, Nouri al-Maliki also had to address unfinished political negotiations at a Cabinet meeting on the government's first full day in office.

Maliki said the appointment of chiefs for the key Defense and Interior ministries should not "take more than two or three days." He is seeking candidates who are independent and have no ties to Iraq's myriad armed groups.

The two ministries, which oversee the army and the police, are crucial for restoring stability, and Maliki needs to find candidates with wide acceptance from his governing coalition of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Failure to set the right tone could further alienate the disaffected Sunni minority, which is the backbone of the insurgency, or it could anger Shiite militias.

"We are aware of the security challenge and its effects. So we believe that facing this challenge cannot be achieved through the use of force only, despite the fact that we are going to use the maximum force in confronting the terrorists and the killers who are shedding blood," Maliki said.

Disarming militias, the members of which are believed to have infiltrated the security services, will be a priority, he said, along with promoting national reconciliation, improving the country's collapsing infrastructure and setting up a special protection force for Baghdad.

Many Sunnis think some Shiite militias are behind death squads blamed for sectarian violence that has escalated in recent months. "We should finish the issue of militias because we cannot imagine a stability and security in this country with the presence of militias that kill and kidnap," Maliki said.

Maliki has said he wants to accelerate the pace at which army and police recruits are trained in an effort to speed up the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition troops.

Shortly after the first Cabinet meeting, a suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and wounded 17 by blowing himself up among filled lunch tables in a downtown Baghdad restaurant popular with police officers. Three of the dead were police officers.

The attack at the Safar restaurant was part of a spree of bombing that killed at least 19 Iraqis and wounded dozens Sunday.

A bomb attack hit a busy fruit market in New Baghdad, a mixed Shiite, Sunni and Christian area in the capital.

Police found one bomb and detonated it after trying to evacuate the market, but a second, undiscovered bomb exploded moments later, killing three civilians and wounding 23.

A car bomb targeting a police patrol in northwestern Baghdad killed a bystander and injured 15 people.