Shiite leader calls for respect for human rights; 3 more Americans die

Iraq's top Shiite politician urged Shiite-led security forces Wednesday to respect human rights, a gesture aimed at appeasing Sunni Arabs who accuse police of murder and abuse. The U.S. command reported three more American troops have died.

Building a powerful, yet legitimate, Iraqi police force and army is crucial for the U.S. strategy of transferring security responsibility to the Iraqis so that U.S. and other international troops can begin heading home.

Ahead of a major religious event Thursday, Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim addressed Sunni concerns when he urged security forces to obey the constitution in performing their duties.

"We call upon our faithful security forces ... to continue strongly confronting terrorists but with more consideration to human rights," al-Hakim said in a nationally televised speech at a Shiite mosque attended by 5,000 people.

Allegations of human rights abuses threaten talks aimed at forming a new government comprising Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs. The U.S. hopes these efforts will blunt the Sunni Arab-led insurgency by having key members of that community handed positions of power.

The flashpoint issue is who will control the interior and defense ministries. Shiites, who were suppressed under Saddam Hussein, want both security posts.

But the once-dominant Sunnis, whose influence waned after Saddam's fall, oppose hard-line Shiites particularly current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr winning the posts. They cite allegations of widespread arrests and killings of Sunnis by security forces made up of purported Shiite sympathizers and militiamen, reports AP.

O.Ch.