US, British soldiers killed in Iraq
( AP ) - Insurgents killed three British troops and two American soldiers in separate attacks in southern and central Iraq, coalition officials said Friday.
Several British soldiers also were wounded in the Thursday mortar attack on their base at the airport in the southern city of Basra, the British military said. The two Americans were killed in separate attacks Thursday in the Baghdad area, the U.S. said.
The British deaths bring the number of British soldiers killed in the Iraq war to 162. The much larger American force has lost at least 3,630 service members, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. and British officials hope that stepped up military operations around Baghdad will give Iraqi leaders the chance to reach power-sharing agreements to establish a long-term peace in this country.
On Thursday, Sunni legislators returned to parliament after a five-week boycott, raising hopes the assembly can make progress on legislation demanded by Washington before the lawmakers take a month's break in August.
The 44 members of the Iraqi Accordance Front attended Thursday's parliament session after striking a deal with the Shiites and Kurds to reinstate the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was ousted by the Shiite-dominated assembly last month for erratic behavior.
Under a face-saving formula, al-Mashhadani is expected to resign after presiding over a few sessions. One official said al-Mashhadani was to step down Wednesday or parliament will force him out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The Sunnis returned to the 275-member parliament two days after al-Sadr's 30 lawmakers ended their boycott. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government accepted the Sadrists' demands for rebuilding a Shiite shrine damaged by bombings.
The two boycotts had paralyzed the legislature, which is under strong criticism from the Americans for failing to approve key legislation and for plans to take a month's vacation in August at a time when U.S. and Iraqi troops are fighting and dying on the battlefield.
Both the Sunnis and the al-Sadr bloc are still refusing to attend Cabinet meetings. And it is also far from certain whether the return of those two factions means approval of major legislative benchmarks can be assured.
For example, several members of al-Sadr's bloc have said they intend to oppose the current draft of the oil bill, which would regulate the country's huge petroleum resources. Companion legislation would distribute oil revenues among all Iraqis, ensuring Sunnis a fair share for their oil-poor regions.
The Kurds also oppose the draft, saying it infringes on their constitutional right to a major role in managing fields and controlling revenues in their northern region. Many Sunnis believe the bill gives too much power to regions.
Al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press the Sunnis had questions about the draft and he did not expect the bill to be debated until September.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said the U.N. "could play an enormously helpful role" in Iraq.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to April, wrote in an op-ed piece Friday in The New York Times that the U.N. "possesses certain comparative advantages for undertaking complex internal and regional mediation efforts."The United Nations has an office and a special representative in Iraq but it cut back severely on its presence here after the Aug. 19, 2003 truck bombing at its headquarters in eastern Baghdad that killed at least 22 people, including the top U.N. official Sergio Vieira de Mello and his deputy, Nadia Younes.
"In the role of mediator, it has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process," Khalilzad wrote in The Times.
Khalilzad also said the United Nations is "uniquely suited to work out a regional framework to stabilize Iraq."