Iraqi Prime Minister Denies Civil War

Al-Maliki’s comments came during an interview on BBC radio before meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on his way to visit the United States. The two leaders discussed the handover of military responsibilities to Iraqi troops in Basra and southern Iraq, and the security clampdown in Baghdad.

“There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders have succeeded and they are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue. There is continuing efforts in that direction, the civil war will not happen in Iraq,” al-Maliki said.

While the prime minister visited London on Monday, five bombers in Samarra, Baghdad and Mosul killed at least nine people and wounded nearly 30. Gunmen killed 10 civilians and Iraqi policemen in attacks in Tikrit, Hilla, Mosul and Baghdad.

On Sunday, two car bombs near a Kirkuk city courthouse and Baghdad market killed 50 people and wounded 165.

In the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, four unidentified bodies were found in the Tigris River, bound and with gunshot wounds to the head. Twenty more bodies were found throughout the city, according to officials. Further down the Tigris near Suwayra seven more bodies were found handcuffed, blindfolded, and shot in the head and chest.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed “due to enemy action” in Anbar province Sunday and Monday in clashes with sectarian death squads, according to military officials.

The trip to the West marks al-Maliki’s first since becoming prime minister of his unity government three months ago. He plans to travel to the United States Tuesday to meet with President Bush about the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Al-Maliki’s visit drew criticism from followers of top Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who labeled the visit a “vague and empty trip” and called for the prime minister to avoid extending the presence of coalition forces in Iraq in a released statement.

Al-Maliki said he expected foreign troops, including 140,000 from the United States and UK, could start leaving once certain improvements were made to Iraq’s police and military.

“It is definitely not decades, not even years,” he said.

Earlier this year, British troops handed security control of the Muthanna province, the first to be turned over, to Iraqi forces.

A recent report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq estimated that 5,818 people were killed in violence in Iraq during May and June — an average of more than 100 civilians per day.

“We are confident that we will confront terrorism and the violence that is in Iraq,” said al-Maliki.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of mass murder resumed without his attendance. The former leader of Iraq was hospitalized from the effects of a 16-day hunger strike in protest of the court. According to a U.S. military spokesman, he is voluntarily receiving nutrition through a feeding tube and his life is not in danger.