INTERNATIONAL

Car bomb blasts rattle Baghdad



Fifteen killed, 100 wounded in violence; police discover 20 bullet-riddled bodies

Baghdad: Seven car bomb explosions and shootings killed 15 persons and wounded 100 in Baghdad on Monday as Washington stepped up pressure for Shia Premier-designate Jawad al-Maliki to form a government and halt Iraq's slide into civil war.

Police also discovered bodies of 20 Iraqis, apparent victims of sectarian killings. ``All the men had bullets in their heads,'' an Interior Ministry official said.

The latest wave of violence came as U.S. President George W. Bush stepped up pressure on Mr. Maliki to quickly form a national unity government, with the U.S. military facing one of its bloodiest periods in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

About 60 U.S. servicemen have been killed in Iraq this month, taking the military's death toll since the invasion to 2,392.

More than four months after the December election for Iraq's first full-term post-Saddam government, political leaders have yet to form a working Cabinet after months of bickering over who should be the next Prime Minister.

On Saturday the deadlock appeared broken when Mr. Maliki was nominated by the dominant Shia bloc, the United Iraq Alliance, as a compromise candidate after the withdrawal of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's candidacy.

On Sunday, Mr. Bush telephoned Mr. Maliki, as well as re-selected President Jalal Talabani and new Parliament Speaker Mahmud Mashhadani, urging them to form a national unity government.

``I told them they have awesome responsibilities to their people,'' Mr. Bush said. ``They have a responsibility to defeat the terrorists. They have a responsibility to unite their country and I believe they will.''

Heavy U.S. military casualties and an upsurge in sectarian violence alongside the long-running Sunni Arab militancy have emerged as the major obstacles to U.S. hopes of withdrawing its 130,000 troops three years after the invasion.

Saddam link to massacre

Meanwhile, the prosecution in the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Monday wrapped up its evidence against him after a new report by handwriting experts that linked him to the massacre of Shia villagers in the 1980s.

After a 90-minute session with Mr. Hussein and his seven co-defendants all in court, the trial was adjourned for three weeks to May 15, when the defence is expected to start presenting witnesses. The tribunal's chief investigative judge Raed al-Juhi said the prosecution had ``finished submitting evidence, though we cannot say that it has rested its case.''

``The process of prosecution will continue until a verdict is passed,'' Mr. Juhi said. Agencies

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