Car bombs hit police stations, killing 8 Iraqis

U.S. blames attacks on Hussein loyalists, Islamic extremists

The Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 16, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two powerful car bombs exploded at police stations in Baghdad yesterday, killing at least eight Iraqi officers and demonstrating that the insurgency in Iraq has not ended with the capture of Saddam Hussein.

"People did this to say, `We can do this even though you caught Saddam,'" said Salem Abed Ali, 40, who was shaken at his breakfast table yesterday morning, along with his wife and two children, when a bomb exploded across the street, at a police station in the Husseiniya neighborhood. "They want to keep battling inside Iraqi lands."

In his national address Sunday, President Bush cautioned Americans that the "capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq." His warning appeared to be confirmed in the rubble and shredded cars at the sites of the two bombings yesterday, one of them at a site where U.S. military investigators work but had not shown up for the day.

Against the images of Hussein printed in Iraqi newspapers and played endlessly on satellite television, the attacks confronted Iraqis and the U.S. troops doing the fighting with the question of what kind of force is staging the attacks.

"Saddam does not have the power to do these things," said a police lieutenant in Husseiniya, Ali Ismael, 25, his forehead bandaged and his shirt speckled with blood specks from the explosion there. "His ability is too weak. Last night we saw him in a hole."

U.S. officials, conceding that their knowledge of the insurgents is weak, have blamed the attacks largely on Hussein loyalists, Iraqi Islamic extremists and Muslims from outside Iraq.

The assumption has been that some have been fighting for Hussein's return to power, and the question in the coming weeks will be whether the insurgency will grow or shrink with Hussein's return to power no longer a realistic prospect. Some Iraqis think Hussein's capture might fuel the insurgency.

"Of course, there will be violence, and resistance will increase," said Col. Ibrahim Mutlak, director of police patrols for Salahadin Province, where Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, is. "Lots of people didn't want to join the resistance because they didn't want to be called Saddam supporters. But now all the people who oppose the Americans will join."

Yesterday in Tikrit, where support for Hussein remains strong, U.S. soldiers dispersed crowds expressing anger at his arrest.

In Ramadi and Khaldiya, two other Hussein strongholds west of Baghdad, huge crowds chanted in support of him and fired weapons yesterday evening, apparently because of rumors that he had not been captured.

There were also reports of exchanges of gunfire with passing U.S. troops in Ramadi, possibly resulting in Iraqi casualties, though that could not immediately be confirmed.

The U.S. military reported that information from Hussein and from documents in a briefcase found when he was captured had led to the arrest of two Iraqi officials wanted by the Americans. A spokesman for the 1st Armored Division, Capt. Jason Beck, said he had no further details.

After a wave of attacks in October and November, the past three weeks had been relatively quiet amid an American offensive against the insurgent groups and their sources of money.

Sunday, however, hours after Hussein was arrested but before the arrest was made public, a car bomb exploded in Khaldiya, west of Baghdad, killing at least 17 police officers.

The new Iraqi police force, organized and paid by Americans, has been a frequent target for attack, in part because its officers are far less protected than U.S. soldiers are.

Many police stations have been reinforced with blast-resistant walls and huge barriers of dirt, but the station in Husseiniya, a working-poor neighborhood of mostly Shiite Muslims in the far north of Baghdad, had little protection other than concertina wire and an ordinary wall of concrete block.

Police Col. Hamad Ghazan said he was looking out the window on the building's second story at 7:55 a.m., during a change of shifts, when he saw a four-wheel-drive vehicle, painted to look like a taxi, speed toward the entrance of the building. A police officer shot at the vehicle, which then careened through the concertina wire and hit Ghazan's car, parked in front, preventing it from making its way to the building's entrance, Ghazan said. Then it exploded.

"It was a very, very big explosion," he said. "If my car hadn't been there, he would have gotten inside, and it would have been much worse."

At least eight officers were killed in the explosion, officers there said. Ten other people, including several civilians, were wounded, they said.

The blast hurled the vehicle's engine block and part of its chassis into the courtyard and carved out a crater about 5 feet deep in the asphalt road.

The inside of the building was shattered, with windows blown out and plaster falling on the floor.

"This is a cruel action," Ghazan said. "It will do nothing. We won't be affected by this. We are going to serve Iraq. We are going to serve the Iraqi people."

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