As al-Shemari issued the startling new estimate, the head of the Baghdad
central morgue said Thursday he was receiving as many as 60 violent death
victims each day at his facility alone. Dr. Abdul-Razzaq al-Obaidi said those
deaths did not include victims of violence whose bodies were taken to the city's
many hospital morgues or those who were removed from attack scenes by relatives
and quickly buried according to Muslim custom.
Al-Obaidi said the morgue had received 1,600 violent death victims in
October, one of the bloodiest months of the conflict. US forces suffered 105
deaths last month, the fourth highest monthly toll.
At least 45 Iraqis were killed or found dead in continuing sectarian violence
Thursday, with 16 of the victims killed in bombings at Baghdad markets. For the
fifth straight day, insurgent and militia mortar teams traded fire in the
capital's northern neighborhoods.
Al-Shemari, while not explaining the death toll estimate, was more precise
about the government's increasingly public and insistent demands for a speedier
US transfer of authority to Iraqi forces and the withdrawal of American troops
to their bases and from Iraq's cities and towns.
"The army of America didn't do its job. ... They tie the hands of my
government," said al-Shemari, a Shiite.
"They should hand us the power. We are a sovereign country," he said, adding
that the first step would be for American forces to leave population centers.
Al-Shemari is a controversial figure and a member of the movement of radical
anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some US officials have complained that the
ministry has diverted supplies to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
In August, US troops arrested seven of al-Shemari's personal guards in a raid
on his office. The US never explained the raid, but Iraqi officials said
Americans suspected the guards were part of a militia.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who also has close ties to al-Sadr, told Bush
in a video conference last month that he would make renewal of the UN mandate
under which the US keeps forces in Iraq conditional on a rapid handover of
Al-Maliki also said at the time that US forces should clear out of Iraq's
cities, according to top aide Hassan al-Suneid. He said the White House agreed,
although that was never confirmed in Washington.
Last week, al-Maliki rejected a demand by a visiting top administration
official that he move to disband Shiite militias by year's end. A senior
al-Maliki adviser, who refused to be identified by name because of the sensitive
nature of the talks, said the prime minister told US National Intelligence
Director John Negroponte it would be suicidal for the Iraqi leader to move
against the heavily armed militias.
The militias are a key player in the sectarian conflict in Iraq, having taken
to the streets with extreme vengeance against Sunni insurgents and civilians
after the February bombing of a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad.
The militias and their death squads are the armed wings of rival Shiite
political parties. One of the militias, known as the Mahdi Army, is loyal to
al-Sadr; the second, larger group is known as the Badr Brigade and answers to
Al-Maliki's hold on power depends on the support of both political
organizations and their fighters, hence his reluctance to move against the armed
He also has balked at US demands for passage of a series of laws that would
favor minority Sunnis, a group that makes up the bulk of the insurgency that has
been fighting US forces and has killed tens of thousands of Shiites.
Sunni members of parliament over the past two days have threatened to walk
out of the legislature and take up arms. They charge the Shiite-dominated
government with refusing to meet their demands for a fair division of power and
The dean of the Sunni politicians in parliament said Thursday there were
attempts by Iran to run Sunnis out of the country. Adnan al-Dulaimi then called
Arab countries to support Iraq's Sunni minority.
"There is a Safawi (Iranian) plan to root the Sunnis out of this country, and
we are confronting it," al-Dulaimi said. "We call on our Arab brethren to
support us and confront this Safawi plan."
His political group has five ministers in al-Maliki's Cabinet and al-Dulaimi
again threatened to pull them out of the government.