Wave of bombs hits Baghdad as Saddam on trial

BAGHDAD - A wave of car bombs killed at least eight people and wounded nearly 80 in Baghdad on Monday, while Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki said his priority would be to unite all Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups.

Maliki is working on choosing a cabinet, which will share power among Shi'ite Muslims, Sunni Arabs and Kurds in a bid to end a Sunni insurgency and sectarian violence that many fear could drag the country into a civil war.

"The main challenge that I see is the existence of a torn relationship in the Iraqi community with all the sectarian and ethnic backgrounds," Maliki, a tough-talking politician from Iraq's Shi'ite majority, told CNN television.

"So I have to work first on uniting all of these elements together and work on a national reconciliation on the basis of national dialogue and common interests."

Two car bombs near Baghdad's Mustansiriya University killed at least five people and wounded 25, officials said. A car bomb near the Health Ministry killed three people and wounded 25. Four other bombings in the city wounded at least 27 people.

Guerrillas attacked a police station near Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, killing four policemen. Insurgents draw support from the Sunni minority, once dominant under Saddam.

Maliki has four weeks to choose a new cabinet and form a government of national unity, widely seen as the only way to halt sectarian violence.

The cabinet and Maliki's own appointment, made by President Jalal Talabani on Saturday, must be ratified by parliament.

A key test of his ability to lead and to unite will be his choice of interior minister, perhaps the most sensitive post given the brutal past many Iraqis endured under Saddam's rule and a present racked by relentless instability and violence.

"We want nothing but security and a safe community in which we can live and raise our children safely," said Wael Khamis, a 44-year-old businessman.

"All we have now is a hope and a dream of a better life. The coming government is our last chance. My wish is to take my family on a car ride without fear."

With Maliki in the process of forming a coalition and putting an end to four months of political paralysis in Baghdad, Shi'ite neighbour Iran said there was no longer any need for talks with the United States to discuss Iraq's problems.

"By God's will we think that right now, because of the presence of a permanent government of Iraq, there is no need," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters in Tehran.

During the impasse among Iraqi leaders over the shape of a new government that followed December elections, Iran and the United states had agreed to discuss how to stabilise Iraq.

But while the political deadlock appears to be over, the bloodshed goes on.

Yarub Yassin was due have married this week but the 22-year-old was one of seven people killed in a guerrilla rocket attack in Baghdad on Sunday.

He was buried on Monday with his body wrapped in the thin mattress and covers he had bought for his wedding night. The horns and drums that were to have celebrated his wedding sounded as mourners wailed.

In Baghdad's heavily fortified so-called Green Zone, the court trying Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity heard the signatures of Saddam and six co-accused on documents linking them to the killing of 148 Shi'ites in the 1980s were genuine.

The prosecution had demanded the court commission a team of criminal experts to authenticate signatures and handwriting of the defendants facing charges of crimes against humanity.

Saddam and his half brother Barzan al-Tikriti have refused to give samples of their writing but both have said there was no crime in prosecuting the 148 from the village of Dujail because they were accused of trying to kill the former Iraqi president.

The defendants could face death by hanging if found guilty.

Defence lawyers demanded 45 days to study new evidence before commenting. The trial was adjourned until May 15 to give the defence time to present their witnesses in the next session.

Saddam sat in a dark suit and white shirt in his metal pen, unusually quiet for a man who has dominated the court with tirades calling for Iraqis to revolt against US occupation.

- REUTERS

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