Talabani Presses For Coalition

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's president pressed political parties on Monday to accelerate efforts to form a broad government to arrest a slide into civil war after bomb blasts in a Baghdad Shiite slum killed 52 people.

A government of national unity encompassing Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis is widely seen as the best way to bring stability to the country, but three months after elections political leaders are deadlocked over who should lead it.

"The terrorists, infidels and Saddam Hussein's followers are seeking to spread the spirit of separation and exploiting gaps left by any delay in the political process," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement.

In more violence on Monday, nine people were killed, including seven policemen, and 36 wounded across Iraq. The governor of Salahaddin province also survived a car bomb attack on his convoy in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

"It is the duty of the political blocs to intensify their efforts to form a government and establish a broad front to achieve security and stability," Talabani said.

Politicians said they would step up negotiations but doubted a deal would be possible by the time the parliament, which was elected in December, meets for its first session on Thursday.

"The meetings will be hours and hours long, all leaders will meet at one table in order to agree," said Zafir al-Ani, a spokesman of the Sunni Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni political grouping.

"We hope to reach a deal by Thursday, but I think it will be very difficult," he said.

After a lull in sectarian violence unleashed by the bombing of an important Shiite shrine on Feb. 22, blasts ripped through the Baghdad stronghold of a major Shiite militia on Sunday.

The U.S. military said 52 were killed and more than 200 wounded.

Talabani, a Kurd, said the bombings were meant to "inflame sectarian strife and fan the fires of civil war."

Officials, including the U.S. ambassador, have warned that another attack like the Samarra mosque bombing could spark all-out sectarian conflict in the bitterly divided country.

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said he would not order his militia to strike Sunni al-Qaida militants after Sunday's bombings, which hit his Sadr City stronghold.

"I could order the Mahdi Army to root out the terrorists and fundamentalists, but this would lead us into civil war and we don't want that," Sadr said at a news conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Police discovered the shot and tortured bodies of four Shiites in Sadr City on Monday. Next to the bodies was a sign bearing a single word: "Traitors."

The Mahdi Army was accused of leading reprisals on Sunni mosques and clerics after Samarra that killed hundreds in a few days. Sadr has denied the charge.

Police said up to six car bombs ripped through two markets in Sadr City on Sunday. Along with the dead, at least 204 people were wounded, they said.

Mahdi Army militia manned checkpoints on roads into the sprawling east Baghdad slum, home to 2 million people, on Monday, searching cars for possible explosives and weapons.