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Attack Kills 19 Iraqis, Roadside Bombs Kill 3 Americans

May 16, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: Sabrina Tavernise, thank you for joining us. Another day of terrible violence in Baghdad. Tell us about what happened.

SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times: Well, later this afternoon, there were two minivans that drove to a parking garage in northeast Baghdad, which is an area that has been — has seen a lot of violence because it’s a mixed area between Sunnis and Shiites, but it’s mostly Shiites.

The gunmen got out of the car. They went into the garage. They shot dead five security guards, then left. And then, minutes later, a bomb was set off, exploded, killing about 14 people. So, all in all, it was 19 killed there and a number of others incidents, shootings, assassinations. All told, it was over 30 people who died today.

Who was behind the attack?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do we know anything about who's behind this? Is this Sunni against Shia and vice versa? Is it outside insurgents like al-Qaida? What is known, if anything?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Most of what happened today seemed to be local Sunnis, although it's always hard to tell. But the parking garage was guarded by Shiites who counted themselves among the Mahdi Army, which is a Shiite kind very loosely affiliated militia group. So we think that probably was -- they were Sunni Arabs targeting them.

But a lot of the violence has been sectarian. For example, yesterday north of Baghdad, a minibus -- I believe it was carrying teachers -- was pulled over and the Sunni teachers were separated from the Shiite teachers. The Sunni teachers were let go; the Shiite teachers were shot dead.

So there is a lot of that happening, a lot of, you know, assassinations, targeted killings, different than the suicide bombings and the large spectacular, you know, market and public space bombings that we were seeing a lot of last year at this time.

Patterns of violence

JUDY WOODRUFF: It does seem like every time we open the newspaper or look at television, there's been another -- it's been another day of violence in Iraq.  Is there any pattern?  Or how would you describe the pace of it?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Yes, the pace -- it's very strange because, last year at this time, as you might remember, a lot of big bombings, a lot of big, spectacular, you know, headline-grabbing violence.

And it's really -- the suicide bombings and car bombings have come down quite a lot, the American military says by about 75 percent, which actually feels right in the capital. But on the other hand, there's a lot more of the shootings that we saw yesterday with the teachers.

So, you know, somebody stops a car, pulls people out of the car, kills them based on their identity. And that's harder to track, but it's been more prevalent, and actually it's been killing -- it seems like it's been killing more people.

For example, I went to the Baghdad morgue about two weeks ago and got numbers of bodies that they had received for Baghdad and the Baghdad area from January to the end of April. And the numbers were about double, running about double the numbers from the same ones last year.

So, for example, in April, there were over 1,000 people that they received, bodies that they have received. In April last year, it was about half that. So people are dying at great rates, but kind of in a different way than last year. So...

The political situation

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, of course, Americans continue to be part of the casualties, a large number in April after a smaller number in March.  Does this say anything at all, Sabrina, about the pace of the handover there?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Well, I mean, you know, it's progressing. And I don't think -- I don't know -- the American deaths had dropped substantially from last November. They've been, you know, going -- they dropped every month from November until April, actually. April, they were up, but they had been falling.

You know, Iraqis continue to take over battle spaces from the Americans. More than half of Baghdad is controlled by Iraqis and policed by Iraqis, a lot of it the army, but some of it also the police. So, you know, it's progressing, but it's complicated because of these attacks on the security forces and because of militias within the security forces themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, what about the political situation? You have, what, a new prime minister in place for the last few weeks? He was supposed to be on track to pick a new cabinet. Where does that stand?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: That's coming close. And actually, there's a lot riding on that, because, you know, it's the first time, really ever, that the Sunnis have been involved in the political process. They're just about to -- they've been haggling over this for months. They're just about to announce the full cabinet.

Sunnis are trying to agree with Kurds, who are trying to agree with Shiites. It's all very complicated, but if they all pull together, which it looks like they are, it's something that could offer a real chance for people here, I think.

And people aren't discounting it. People are following the politics, and it's important to them. But, at the same time, they feel that, you know, the killings that are going on in the neighborhoods right now are pretty astounding and unclear, you know, how much effect the politics will ultimately have on that.

So people want a strong prime minister. They want a strong interior minister. They want someone who's not involved in politics, and it's hard to satisfy all of the factions.

The government aims for May 22

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, can you say what the haggling is over?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: They've gone back and forth in various ministries. I mean, the interior ministry and defense ministry are the two most important ministries, because those are the ones that control the army and the police. And, you know, in Iraq, obviously, security is the main concern.

But there have also been disagreements over the health ministry. I believe that's the ministry that had belonged to the group of Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who had fought the Americans in the past. And also the oil ministry, I believe, there have been disagreement over.

But they apparently are going to be announcing by or before the deadline of May 22nd, which is Monday, so it will be soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Sabrina Tavernise with the New York Times. Thank you very much. You're joining us from Baghdad. Please stay safe.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Thank you. Thanks.