U.S. Marines and Iraqi security forces launched a new offensive against insurgents in troubled cities west of Baghdad after two days of carnage that left nearly 100 people dead. Sunni Muslim tribal leaders met to determine their place in a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.
A pair of kidnapped Indonesian journalists working for their country's Metro TV cable network were apparently released, a video showed Monday. They had been stopped last week by unidentified men in military uniforms in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
It was not possible to determine when the video, delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News, was made and the hostages' release could not be independently confirmed.
As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country's first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands _ including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution _ after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote's legitimacy.
"We made a big mistake when we didn't vote," said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. "Our votes were very important."
He said threats from insurgents _ not sectarian differences _ kept most Sunnis from voting.
Sunnis make up 20 percent of Iraq's population of 26 million; Shiite make up 60 percent.
Gathering in a central Baghdad hotel on Sunday, about 70 tribal leaders from the provinces of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Diyala, Anbar and Nineveh, tried to devise a strategy for participation in a future government. There was an air of desperation in some quarters of the smoke-filled conference room.
"When we said that we are not going to take part, that didn't mean that we are not going to take part in the political process. We have to take part in the political process and draft the new constitution," said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Sunni Endowments in Baghdad.
Just west of the capital, U.S. Marines and Iraqi security forces launched a joint operation to crack down on insurgents and terrorists in several troubled cities, the military said, three months after a weeklong battle to drive out insurgents who controlled the volatile city of Fallujah. The Marines succeeded in gaining control of the city in Anbar province, but the insurgency has continued.
The new operation was under way in several other Euphrates River cities in Anbar, including Heet, Baghdadi, Hadithah and the provincial capital Ramadi, where authorities imposed a nighttime curfew, the military said.
In Baghdad, two explosions boomed through the Iraqi capital early Monday. They were followed by four others. The cause of the blasts was not immediately known. Footage from Associated Press Television News showed U.S. troops treating an American soldier apparently injured in one of the blasts, which overturned a Humvee in the southern Doura neighborhood.
Meanwhile, a powerful Sunni organization believed to have ties with the insurgents sought to condemn the weekend attacks that left nearly 100 Iraqis dead.
"We won't remain silent over those crimes which target the Iraqi people Sunnis or Shiites, Islamic or non-Islamic," Sheik Harith al-Dhari, of the Association of Muslim Scholars, told a news conference.
Iraqis, he said, should unite "against those who are trying to incite hatred between us."
They include Iraq's leading terror mastermind, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a letter to Osama bin Laden found on a captured al-Qaida courier last year, al-Zarqawi proposed starting a civil war between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Shiites and their clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance, which received nearly half the election votes, were to decide in coming days on their choice for prime minister. The two main candidates so far are the former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim vice president.
Chalabi last week claimed in an Associated Press interview that he had enough support among the 140 alliance delegates elected to the National Assembly to beat Jaafari.
Shiite politicians have promised not to allow Friday and Saturday's bloodshed to escalate into a civil war. A series of attacks, including eight suicide bombings, killed 91 people and injured dozens as Iraqi Shiites commemorated the seventh century death of a leader of their Muslim sect.
A radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who led two bloody revolts against U.S. forces, called on Iraqis to avoid blaming any religious group.
"As for the latest attacks and the ones before, I think they are a series of attacks against the Iraqi people in general and are not targeting a specific religious group," he told Al-Jazeera television.
Separately, Al-Jazeera aired a videotape Sunday purporting to show al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri denouncing U.S. calls for reform in the region and urging the West to respect the Islamic world.
Al-Zawahri said the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "explains the truth about reforms and democracy that America alleges it wants to impose in our countries."
"Reform is based on American detention camps like Bagram, Kandahar, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, it will be based on cluster bombs and imposition of people like Karzai and Allawi," he said, referring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
In Washington, the CIA said it was trying to determine the tape's authenticity.
In some Baghdad neighborhoods, barriers were erected Sunday to prevent suicide bombers from carrying out attacks against funeral tents and processions _ as they did with deadly effect on Saturday.
At a funeral in the Bayaa district, near the site of a Saturday attack, 50 chairs were set up inside a tent, but only 10 people showed up. Some mourners said they had no fear because they no longer cared.
"I am not afraid simply because we are in Iraq living like the dead." said Abdel Zahra Farhoud, a 55-year-old farmer. "The Wahhabi extremist groups have turned our lives to hell."
In other violence Sunday:
_ A roadside bomb targeting a convoy of Iraqi troops killed two Iraqi National Guardsmen in Baghdad, police said. In the same area, coalition gunners opened fire on a car that approached their convoy too closely, killing an Iraqi man, police said.
_ Police in the northern city of Mosul found the corpses of two men believed to be former police officers who were shot in the head, a morgue director said Sunday.
_ Six charred bodies were discovered several days ago floating in the Tigris River in Suwayrah, about 40 kilometerrs (25 miles) south of the capital, hospital officials said. The six men were each found handcuffed and shot in the head, chest and back. Their identities were not known.
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