Iraqi General Shot to Death on Patrol

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A sniper kills the Iraqi major general in charge of Iraqi forces protecting Baghdad. The general's division has been gradually assuming control of parts of the capital from U.S. forces. He was among at least 16 people killed in Iraq on Monday.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Senior rank is no protection against the risk of being attacked in Iraq. Yesterday, an Iraqi major general was driving through the streets of Baghdad when a sniper killed him. Just south of Baghdad today, two bombs went off, wounding a number of policemen.

INSKEEP: Attacks like that serve to complicate Iraq's political situation. President Jalal Talabani wants Iraq's new parliament to convene on Sunday. But there is no indication that politicians from various sects and parties are ready to form what U.S. officials describe as a government of national unity.

To get a clearer picture of the situation, we turn to NPR's Jamie Tarabay, who's in Baghdad. And, Jamie, first I have to ask--the violence that we just described, does this amount to a normal couple of days in Baghdad?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, it's not unusual. I mean, today, just in a space of three and a half hours, the Baghdad morgue says it's received 31 bodies. Yesterday, there were about 25 people killed that we know of, and the day before, there were 43 bodies at Baghdad's morgue. So, there are scattered attacks around the city and elsewhere. And the political situation isn't helping the situation on the ground.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that political situation. Is there a connection between the violence and the difficulty that Iraqi politicians are having reaching some kind of unity government?

TARABAY: Well, it just seems to be going from stalemate to stalemate. It's been nearly three months now since the elections, and Iraqis are just waiting to see when their politicians are going to get their act together. There is such instability at that level, and it's being translated into more attacks and less security in Baghdad neighborhoods, you know, between different parties and sects and suburbs.

INSKEEP: Is it suspected that the pattern also goes the other way? That people commit acts of violence trying to influence the political process?

TARABAY: There's definitely the idea that, for example, the Golden Mosque in Samara was bombed intentionally to derail the talks on the formation of a national unity government. You know, the retaliatory attacks that broke out afterwards between the Sunnis and the Shiites prompted the Sunni factions to boycott any talks, and now it's descended to the point where the Sunnis and the Kurds say that Ibrahim Jaafari, the prime minister, is doing such a bad job at maintaining calm, that they want him replaced.

INSKEEP: And Jamie, I have to ask, this killing of an Iraqi major general comes to our attention because he's of such high rank. But this is a man who was killed by a sniper out in the streets of Baghdad. Can you just describe what it is like driving around the streets of a major city, knowing that people like that are out there looking for targets at any time?

TARABAY: It's a very tense experience, I can tell you that. When you're driving, you're always keeping an eye out for the car next to you, let alone what might be out there on the rooftops. People look out for lone drivers; they could be possible suicide bombers driving a, you know, a car full, loaded with explosives. That even if you're not driving on the road, you're out in the shops, you're out in the market, and you're worried about parked cars. You're worried about people driving by and opening fire. So, a sniper on the rooftop is definitely something that people have there at the forefront of their minds as a danger when they go out every day.

INSKEEP: Okay, NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

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