Saturday, March 24, 2007

Chaos In Iraq - The Real "Surge"

Suicide Bomb Attacks Kill Dozens In Iraq
BAGHDAD, March 24, 2007(CBS/AP) Two suicide bomb attacks claimed the lives of 30 people in Iraq today, a day after a deputy prime minister was himself injured in another bombing.

A suicide truck bomber struck a police station in a mainly Sunni area in Baghdad, killing at least 20 people. According to police, the suicide bomber hid the explosives under a load of bricks to bypass tight security around the station, where construction work was being done.

In another incident, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt struck a pastry shop in a predominantly Sunni Turkomen city northwest of Baghdad, killing at least 10 people including two off-duty policemen dressed in civilian clothes, and wounding three, an official said.

The shop is in a busy market area in central Tal Afar, said the city's top administrator, Najim Abdullah said. The attack came just over a year after U.S. President George W. Bush declared that Tal Afar was an example of progress made in bringing security to Iraq.

Officials said insurgents apparently have stepped up their campaign against fellow Sunnis seen to be collaborating with the U.S. and the Iraqi government.

The attacks came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie was seriously wounded in a suicide bombing during prayers at his home in Baghdad. Nine other people were killed in the attack, including al-Zubaie's brother and an aide.

Al-Zubaie was in stable condition and moved out of the intensive care unit Saturday morning, but he remained under anaesthesia at a U.S.-run hospital in the heavily guarded Green Zone, Sunni lawmaker Dhafer al-Ani said.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman, said he had visited al-Zubaie in the hospital and found him in good condition.

"The medical situation of Dr. al-Zubaie is stable after he had a surgical operation to remove shrapnel from his lungs," al-Moussawi told state-run Iraqiya television in a telephone interview.

The attacks — along with a rocket that slammed to earth 50 meters yards from visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday — have shaken the image that the situation in the capital is calming during a security sweep that began Feb. 14, aimed at quelling the Sunni-Shiite violence that surged after last year's bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra.

They also appeared to signal a renewed focus by insurgents targeting Iraqi security forces, politicians and tribes perceived as cooperating with the U.S.-Iraqi efforts. The bomber attacked al-Zubaie a day after a statement purportedly posted on the Internet by an al Qaeda umbrella group singled him out as a stooge "to the crusader occupiers."

The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni parliamentary bloc to which al-Zubaie belonged, denounced the assassination attempt and said such attacks will not force Sunnis to abandon the political process.

"Whether al Qaeda or other organizations were behind such attacks, this will not force us to abandon our principles and firm stances in moving ahead with the political process," said Sunni lawmaker Amil al-Qadhi. "Our decision was a strategic one and we do believe that our presence is very critical in this period and it is impossible to withdraw from the political process."

In Other Developments:

# The military said two U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday in Iraq. The statement said one soldier was killed by a roadside bomb while on foot patrol south of Baghdad. The other died during fighting yesterday in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The deaths bring the total number of Americans to die in Iraq since the war began to at least 3,234, according to an Associated Press count.

# At least 11 other people were killed or found dead on Saturday, including a civilian who died after a parked truck packed with explosives struck a Shiite mosque in Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad, and the bullet-riddled bodies of eight men showing signs of torture were found in Fallujah.

# Speaking in Tokyo, Iraq's vice president Tariq al-Hashimi said a quick withdrawal of American troops would not benefit Iraq or Western interests, and that U.S. forces should not be before his country's own armed forces are functioning autonomously and professionally. "If troops are pulled out on short notice, it will create a security vacuum in Iraq," al-Hashimi said. "This is not going to benefit either Iraqi or Western interests."

# The outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he regrets leaving the country mired in violence, but pointed to Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish region as an example of the way Iraq should be. Khalilzad, who has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made his remarks during an outdoor ceremony officially opening a $200 million dollar water treatment plant in the regional capital of Irbil. "There has been too much pain and violence in many parts of Iraq, but thank God not in Kurdistan," Khalilzad said.

The suicide bomber targeting police in the volatile Sunni neighborhood of Dora managed to bypass tight security to get within 25 yards of the station by hiding the explosives under a load of bricks, detonating them after being stopped by a long barricade guarded by policemen and surrounded by concrete blast walls.

The force of the blast caused part of the blue and white, two-story building to collapse, including the ceiling of a room in which some detainees were being held, police said. Those killed included five policemen and 13 civilians, including some detainees, while 15 officers and 11 civilians were wounded, according to the authorities.

A crane was brought in to help remove debris as police searched for survivors or more victims.

Police Cpl. Hussam Ali, who witnessed the blast from a nearby guard post, said the attacker took advantage of construction work being done inside the station and was able to circumvent the tight security to reach the main gate by hiding the explosives under bricks.

He said trucks had been coming in and out all day so the attack vehicle did not raise suspicions.

The blast caused part of the building to collapse and knocked down blast barriers over a car parked near the gate.

"We were very cautious, but this time we were taken by surprise," Ali said. "The insurgents are inventing new methods to hurt us."

The 10:45 a.m. explosion occurred nearly three hours after two mortar shells landed on a Shiite enclave elsewhere in Dora, killing three people and wounding seven, police said.

Gunmen also ambushed an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baghdad's western Sunni neighborhood of Jami'a, killing a soldier and wounding two others, police said, adding that a militant also was killed in subsequent clashes.

The Islamic State in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombing against al-Zubaie in which the bomber detonated an explosives vest after weekly prayers in a small mosque attached to al-Zubaie's home near the Foreign Ministry, just north of the capital's heavily guarded Green Zone.

The Iraqi military spokesman al-Moussawi called the sucide bombing an inside job, telling state television that an al Qaeda fighter had infiltrated al-Zubaie's security detachment, but he offered no details and repeated calls to his office to verify the claim went unanswered. The Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq's police forces, said it had no information on that claim.

Al-Maliki aide Mariam Taleb al-Rayes also told al-Sharqiyah television the attacker had "infiltrated" al-Zubaie's inner circle, but did not elaborate. She added that the bomber's car blew up outside the house seconds after he detonated his explosives vest.

Al-Zubaie's loss would be a blow to the government, but the al-Maliki administration would not be derailed. There is no legal requirement the post be filled by a Sunni Arab — only an informal agreement among the political parties that formed the current government, and leaders would likely be able to find another Sunni if necessary.

The White House condemned the attack, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad promised the United States would work with the Iraqi government and security forces to capture those behind it.

Hundreds of Iraqis also turned out in the southern city of Basra for the funeral of al-Zubaie's regional aide, Mufid Abdul Zahraa, who was killed in the attack.

The deputy prime minister belongs to a tribe that is centered in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and has been divided between members who support al Qaeda and others who have joined an alliance that has been created to fight the insurgents in Anbar province, which stretches to the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

If the Islamic State in Iraq, an organization linking al Qaeda in Iraq and several other Sunni extremist groups, was responsible for the attack, that might signal a growing concern within al Qaeda about recent success by U.S. troops in Anbar.

Tariq al-Dulaimi, a senior security official in Ramadi, said the attack showed increasing desperation by al Qaeda in Iraq.

"This terrorist organization is trying to compensate for its big defeats in Anbar by attacking al-Zubaie, who is an outspoken critic of the terrorists," he said.

Al-Zubaie is among a long list of politicians — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds — who have been targeted by militants seeking to undermine a succession of U.S.-backed governments in Iraq. Close relatives of government officials have also been victims of assassinations, abductions and roadside bombs.

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