Iraq parliament speaker removed

Updated: 2007-06-11 20:09

BAGHDAD - Parliament voted Monday in a closed session to remove the speaker after a series of scandals involving the controversial lawmaker, legislators said. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani will be replaced by another Sunni Arab, they said.

Iraqis gather around a burning patrol car in Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, Monday, June 11, 2007. [AP]

The US military, meanwhile, said three American soldiers were killed and six were wounded, along with an interpreter, Sunday when a suicide car bomber brought down a section bridge south of Baghdad on Iraq's main north-south artery.

"The efforts to clear the road continue," said Lt. Col. Randy Martin, a US military spokesman.

Al-Mashhadani's behavior has repeatedly embarrassed the Sunni Arab partners in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government. Many of the house's 275 legislators viewed his behavior as unbecoming and, on occasion, erratic.

Three lawmakers said the Iraqi Accordance Front, parliament's largest Sunni Arab bloc with 44 of the house's 275 seats, has pledged to offer a replacement for al-Mashhadani within a week. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Al-Mashhadani, a former physician and an Islamist, is a member of the Accordance Front and will retain his seat in parliament, according to the decision. He did not attend Monday's session, which was chaired by his deputy, Shiite Khaled al-Attiyah.

The speaker has been in trouble for sometime.

Last year, he barely survived a campaign by Shiite and Kurdish politicians to remove him after he said Iraqis who killed American troops should be celebrated as heroes. Last month, he slapped a fellow Sunni lawmaker in the face and called him "scum" at the end of a raucous session.

An incident on Sunday appeared to have been taken by lawmakers as the last straw.

Al-Mashhadani got into a shouting match with lawmaker Firyad Mohammed Omar, a Shiite Turkoman, when he complained to the speaker about what he said was the heavy handedness of his personal security guards. Al-Mashhadani responded by heaping abuse at Omar, who complained to fellow legislators that he was also assaulted by al-Mashhadani's guards

The move came as Britain's next prime minister met with Iraqi leaders in a surprise visit following promises to study his country's participation in the conflict as it faces growing opposition at home. Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is to succeed Tony Blair later this month, was on a one-day fact-finding mission, British officials said.

Meanwhile, engineers were at the scene of Sunday's suicide car bombing on the bridge, using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear the highway, Baghdad's main north-south artery, which was partially blocked by debris from the overpass. An Iraqi interpreter also was wounded in the attack, according to the statement that gave the casualty toll.

US armored vehicles provided cover fire from their cannons after the bombing, which occurred in the area dubbed the "triangle of death" for its frequent Sunni insurgent attacks.

The blast dropped one of two sections of the "Checkpoint 20" bridge crossing over the north-south expressway, six miles east of Mahmoudiya.

It appeared that a northbound suicide driver stopped and detonated his vehicle beside a support pillar, said Lt. Col. Garry Bush, an Army munitions officer who was in the convoy, which also carried an Associated Press reporter and photographer and arrived two minutes after the blast.

A US Army checkpoint and a tent structure, apparently a rest area, fell into the shattered concrete. The crossing was believed to have been closed to all but military traffic at the time.

Security guards with private security firm Armor Group International, all ex-military, and others in a passing convoy rushed to the ruins. They found a scene of confusion and worked with a US Army quick reaction force for some 45 minutes to pull trapped men from the rubble, scrambling over the fallen concrete.

"When that size blast went off, everyone was in shock," said one of the first atop the rubble, Jackie Smith, 53, a former lieutenant colonel now working as a civilian Army munitions expert.

He said he saw what he believed was the engine block of a truck apparently what remained of the suicide vehicle.

Soon the outpost sergeant in charge was organizing a search for his missing men, Smith said. The Armor Group team climbed up with first-aid kits, stretchers and other aid.

With the Army's quick reaction force, they struggled to lift concrete shards off the men, pinned along the slope of what was once a roadway. At one point, a Bradley armored vehicle with a tow chain pulled a slab off a pinned victim to free him.

Then a shout went up, "Morphine! Morphine!" and a black T-shirt-clad Briton administered painkiller to the freed man.

"Another poor fellow looked crushed beneath a concrete slab," said Donald Campbell, a 40-year-old from Inverness, Scotland.

During the rescue, US armored vehicles opened up with suppressing fire, possibly having spotted movement in the surrounding countryside, flat and baking in 100-degree-plus Fahrenheit temperatures.

Traffic was delayed for over an hour until a medevac helicopter landed to take aboard the wounded, and traffic slowly resumed under the remaining section of the span.

Iraqi police said the overpass was a vital link across the highway for villagers in the area because the other spans have been taken over by US forces. A police officer in nearby Iskandariyah, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said a curfew had been imposed on vehicles and pedestrians after the attack and earlier bombings of a mosque and a Sunni political party's headquarters that caused some damage but no casualties.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, whose forces control the area of the bombing, spoke at length about US efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

"There are tribal sheiks out there who say 'Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don't care what you call me. ... You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I'll secure my area.' And that's the direction we're moving out there," the Third Infantry Division commander said.

In a meeting with reporters, Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

"They say: 'We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate al-Qaida worse and we hate the Persians (Iranians) even worse' ... you can't ignore that whole population," Lynch said.

His division, he said, had lost 43 soldiers since the beginning of the US troop surge on Feb. 14.

The deaths raised to at least 3,509 members of the US military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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