Violence Grips Iraq as Government Stumbles In Iraq, Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki is struggling with sectarian divisions as he attempts to fill out his Cabinet before the constitutional deadline of May 22. The backdrop for Iraq's political troubles continues to be deadly violence, with multiple attacks leaving dozens dead on Sunday. Monday also brings the resumption of Saddam Hussein's trial.
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Violence Grips Iraq as Government Stumbles

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Violence Grips Iraq as Government Stumbles

Violence Grips Iraq as Government Stumbles

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

The trial of Saddam Hussein resumed today in Baghdad after a three-week break. The resumption of the proceedings follows a brutal weekend in Iraq, during which scores of Iraqis were killed along with several American and British troops.

Some officials believe the insurgents stepped up their attacks in anticipation of the formation of a new Iraqi national unity government. Facing a deadline in a week's time, Prime Minister Designate Nouri al-Malaki is struggling to satisfy Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties, as he puts together his cabinet.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Baghdad.

Peter, Malaki is close to the end of the 30-day deadline. Is there concern he's not going to make it?

PETER KENYON reporting:

Well, by most accounts, Malaki is close to nailing down all the seats in the cabinet of what could fairly be called a national unity government. And that's something American officials have repeatedly said would be a major defeat for the Iraqi insurgency. But it's still far from clear how quickly another fledgling government can have a major impact on the security situation. You have to remember, from the Iraqi viewpoint, it's been five months since they braved insurgent attacks to go and vote for another new government. And as far as they can see, nothing's happened except more killing.

YDSTIE: Mm hmm. With the insurgent attacks and sectarian killings continuing unabated, really, the U.S. military in Iraq is struggling to train Iraqi units to take over security operations in the country. Are Iraqis anywhere close to assuming this responsibility?

KENYON: Well, if you ask Iraqis that question today, most would say absolutely not. Here's one example of the chaos that we learned of just today. A minibus full of teachers was stopped north of Baghdad. Teachers were lined up on the ground. Gunmen killed every other one of them, leaving the survivors in hysterics. We got those details from an Iraqi relative of one of the survivors.

Now separately, the U.S. military announced four more fatalities yesterday, two Marines in Anbar Province and two soldiers had their helicopter shot down south of Baghdad.

In general, on the training and the Iraqi security forces, the new Iraqi Army seems to have a relatively good reputation. But the police are still very much mistrusted here. And that's not going to change overnight.

YDSTIE: Mm hmm. Meanwhile, amid all this violence, Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants get to present some defense witnesses in court today. Bring us up to date on the trial.

KENYON: Well, the judge today entered a not guilty plea for Saddam. The case involves the killing of nearly a 150 Iraqi Shiites after a failed assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982. We are expecting to hear from the defense, which argues neither Saddam nor his defendants, co-defendants, did anything illegal.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are getting ready to set the date for the second Saddam trial, where he'll face charges of genocide involving attacks on the Kurds in the 1980s. The most infamous of those cases is being set aside for its own trial later on, the use of chemical weapons in the village of Halabja, which killed some 5,000 Kurds.

YDSTIE: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Baghdad, thanks very much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, John.

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