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By ELENA BECATOROS
Bombers and gunmen killed at least 41 people and wounded dozens across Iraq on Monday, while parliament leaders again put off debate on legislation that some Iraqis fear could threaten the country’s unity and bring even more violence.
The U.S. military relinquished control of a second Iraqi army division as Iraqi officials prepared to further tighten security ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when insurgent attacks tend to spike.
In a positive development for Iraq’s leaders, predominantly Sunni Arab tribes in a volatile western province have joined to fight insurgents in the region and want the government and the U.S.-led coalition to supply them with weapons, a tribal leader said.
Tribal leaders and clerics in Ramadi, capital of violent Anbar province, met last week and set up a force of about 20,000 men "ready to purge the city of these infidels," Sheik Fassal al-Guood, a tribal leader from Ramadi, told The Associated Press.
"People are fed up with the acts of those criminals who take Islam as a cover for their crimes," he said. "The situation in the province is unbearable, the city is abandoned, most of the families have fled the city and all services are poor."
An indication of the situation came Monday when two suicide car bombers attacked a police station in Ramadi, killing at least two police officers and wounding 26 people, the Interior Ministry and U.S. military said. Al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera television put the death toll much higher, saying 13 people were killed.
A suicide bomber also struck in Tal Afar, a city 260 miles northwest of Baghdad that has seen much insurgent activity in the past, killing at least 20 people and wounding 17. Bombings and shootings in and around Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, killed 12 people.
At least six more people died in other incidents around Iraq, and authorities found at least five bodies, including two women, that probably were victims of the sectarian reprisal killings being waged between Shiite and Sunni Arabs.
In Baghdad, political leaders from Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab groups met to discuss the federalism bill submitted to parliament this month by the largest Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance. They canceled a formal parliament debate scheduled for Tuesday.
The head of the largest Sunni Arab alliance, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said the faction leaders would meet again to discuss the issue Tuesday, but said the bill would not be debated until a later — as yet unspecified — date.
The legislation calls for setting up a system to allow creation of autonomous regions in the predominantly Shiite south much like the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Sunni Arabs fear that would split Iraq apart and fuel sectarian bloodshed.
The Kurdish north and Shiite south hold Iraq’s oil fields, while the predominantly Sunni Arab areas don’t have any.
Sunni Arabs say that before autonomy legislation can be passed, parliament must name a committee to amend the constitution — a key demand they made when they agreed to join Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. One of the amendments they seek would weaken the ability to set up self-ruling cantons.
Al-Dulaimi, as well as Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, said the Kurds had proposed setting up the committee simultaneously with submitting the draft bill for debate sometime in the future.
Monday’s violence came as the government prepared to announce new security measures for Baghdad ahead of Ramadan, which is expected to start Sept. 24.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told the AP the measures would be adopted two or three days before the holy month begins to "protect citizens from terrorists attacks."
The Iraqi army’s 4th Division also came under Iraqi control in central Salahuddin province Monday, the government said.
It was the second of Iraq’s 10 divisions to be put under direct Iraqi control since Sept. 7, when coalition forces handed over control of Iraq’s armed forces command to the government.
Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Patrick Quinn in Baghdad and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press