KARBALA, Iraq - Suicide bombers in four vehicles launched a multipronged attack yesterday on U.S. allies in this southern holy city, killing 13 people and wounding more than 170, officials said.
Killed were six soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition - four Bulgarians and two Thais - and six Iraqi police officers and one Iraqi civilian. Scores of Iraqi police officers and five U.S. soldiers were among the wounded, officials said.
It was one of the largest and most brazen assaults by guerrillas fighting the U.S. occupation in weeks. A lull this month has ended with a surge by fighters apparently determined to prove that the capture of Saddam Hussein will not deter them.
"This was a coordinated, massive attack planned for a big scale and intended to do much harm," Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, head of the 9,500- member Polish-led multinational force responsible for the Karbala area, told Polish television.
Tyszkiewicz said the attackers, armed with mortars and machine guns, tried to hit two military bases by the university, a police station and the city hall - all within minutes. Several assailants were shot dead, he said.
The five wounded Americans belonged to the U.S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade and were posted at the Karbala police station. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Another 32 soldiers from the coalition were wounded.
In attacks earlier in the day, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at troops from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in the northern city of Mosul. The soldiers returned fire, killing four occupants of a car from which the Americans said the shots and grenades had come. And near Baghdad, six U.S. soldiers were wounded when two convoys hit roadside bombs.
After initially conflicting reports concerning the dead, the Bulgarian government reported that four of its soldiers were killed, and a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the deaths of two soldiers of its 422-member force.
The 485-member Bulgarian force was being evacuated because its bases and headquarters were destroyed in yesterday's attacks, military officials said.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, briefing reporters in Baghdad, said the insurgency is on the decline, the Karbala events notwithstanding. He said attacks have decreased significantly, from about 50 a day in mid-September to an average of about 15 a day now, despite what he called a minor spike on Christmas Day of 18 in two hours.
"We've always said the capture of Saddam Hussein was a necessary but not sufficient condition to bring safety and security to Iraq," Kimmitt said. "We never declared that once we had him in prison that we could all go home.
"So while it's good news, in fact great news, that we have Saddam Hussein in custody right now, there are still significant numbers of former regime elements, some foreign fighters, some international terrorists present here in the country that haven't gotten the word," Kimmitt said. "We're going to help bring the word to them."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson reported from Baghdad and special correspondent Said al-Rifai from Karbala.