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Iraqis offer little to heal sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq - One day after President Bush told the American public that Iraqi leaders are committed to regaining control of their capital, Iraqi politicians conceded that they've made little progress on the issues that Bush said the government must resolve.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that it had selected a commander and two deputies to oversee the Baghdad security plan, but it didn't release their names.

A law that would govern how Iraq's oil wealth will be distributed among the country's rival sects and ethnic groups has yet to be presented to parliament. A law that would ease government employment restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party remains a low priority, behind a plan for compensating the victims of Saddam's regime. Amendments to the constitution that would give minority Sunni Muslims greater influence on legislation aren't expected to be drafted for six to seven months.

"It's going very slowly," said Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite Muslim legislator from al-Maliki's Dawa party. "The parliament feels that it has not been allowed to move freely to run its own country and its own security forces. It has not been allowed to do that."

Bodies found

Death squads, however, remained active. Thirty-seven bodies were found throughout Baghdad, 36 of them on the mostly Sunni west side of the city. In Hai al Amil, a neighborhood that the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr controlled, 20 bodies littered the streets.

Al-Maliki was silent Thursday. The few details of his security plan that became known were disseminated piecemeal through top advisers, legislators and spokesmen.

Al-Maliki might be saying little publicly about any promises he may have made to U.S. officials in an effort to avoid angering his political base. He came into office last year with a reputation as a hard-line Shiite, and he derives much of his political strength from al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army. Some here think that the line between the government and the Sadrists is indistinguishable at times.

The most concrete information about the security plan came from Gen. Ali Ghaidan, the commander of land forces for the Ministry of Defense, who said in a phone interview with McClatchy Newspapers that three Iraqi army brigades would be dispatched to Baghdad in the coming week. Two of them would be taken from Irbil in the northern Kurdish region and the third from Samarra, north of Baghdad, he said.

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