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Saturday, July 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rumors of coup in Iraq prompt Shiite warnings

Washington Post

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A Shiite Muslim political leader said Friday that rumors were circulating of an impending coup attempt against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and warned that "we will not allow it."

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq's most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that "some tongues" were talking about toppling al-Maliki's Shiite-led government and replacing it with a "national salvation government, which we call a military coup government." He did not detail the allegation.

A new government would mean "canceling the constitution, canceling the results of the elections and going back to square one ... and we will not accept that," he said. Al-Amiri is also a top official in the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the leading member of a coalition of Shiite political parties governing Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced that four Marines were killed Thursday in unspecified "enemy action" in the western province of Anbar. The names of the four Marines — three assigned to the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and one from Regimental Combat Team 5 — were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

In a sermon at the Fatimy mosque in Najaf, Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi also spoke about coup rumors. "We should go on with the political process in building a new Iraq," the preacher said, "and there is no space for thinking about a national salvation government or a military or a political coup."

Al-Amiri's comments came during an event commemorating the third anniversary of the death of a respected ayatollah, Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, who was assassinated in a car-bomb attack in Najaf not long after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Al-Hakim's younger brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, also spoke at the ceremony.

Al-Hakim called on Iraqis to take on greater responsibility for securing the country, to set up neighborhood defense committees and to establish greater autonomy in a region of nine provinces in southern and central Iraq, a predominantly Shiite area.

Al-Hakim said that the "experience of Kurdistan" — a largely autonomous region in northern Iraq — "is a pioneering experience" and that "a serious movement should be made in that direction."

Al-Hakim, the former commander of the feared Badr Brigade militia, has long complained the Americans have interfered with Iraqi forces' efforts to crack down on Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists.

Those complaints grew more frequent after U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry lockup last November and found prisoners showing signs of torture. At the time, the ministry was controlled by al-Hakim's party, and it still wields considerable influence, although the ministers were changed in May.

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The U.S. military provided more information about a clash with Shiite militiamen Sunday in Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad.

U.S. troops, along with Iraqi soldiers and police, killed 33 insurgents in the daylong battle, the U.S. military said in a statement. The U.S. troops came under gunfire and "rocket-propelled attack" when they entered the downtown area and responded with the assistance of Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks.

"Thugs and criminals tried to take over Musayyib, but they failed because the Iraqi army and police are unbeatable when they work together," Col. John Tully, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said in the statement.

In Washington, Pentagon's decision to increase U.S. forces in Iraq will push troop levels there to roughly 135,000, dashing Bush administration hopes of dropping the figure by tens of thousands by the fall congressional campaigns.

As of Friday, there were 16 Army and Marine brigades in Iraq, two more than the number several months ago. Total troops there had already reached 132,000 and will climb in the coming weeks because of a decision to delay the scheduled return home this month of an Alaskan Army brigade.

The decision came in response to the escalating violence in Baghdad.

"You're going to see that spike, that is a sustained spike, for a while, and you're going to still have force rotations that take place," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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