Car bomb kills at least two in Iraq

Coalition forces capture ex-Baath party official, 54 on U.S. most wanted list

January 15, 2004|By Nicholas Riccardi | Nicholas Riccardi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAQUBA, Iraq - As children walked to the school next door, a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives outside a police station here yesterday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens in the latest attack on symbols of authority in this country.

The assault came on a day when U.S. forces announced the capture of former Baath party leader Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, detained near the city of Ramadi - like Baquba, located in the so-called Sunni triangle region, a stronghold of opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

Al-Muhammad was No. 54 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, and American Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt called him an "enabler for resistance attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces."

American soldiers also detained four nephews of the remaining most-wanted Iraqi, former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, in the town of Samarra.

Kimmitt said yesterday that attacks against coalition forces have declined to an average of 17 a day. The average had been double that before Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces last month.

Kimmitt did not have figures for attacks against Iraqi police and other officials whom American forces have put in control of much of the security apparatus here, including the station in Baquba.

Members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps said that they initially turned back the explosives-filled green Toyota Corona from the blockaded street outside a police station about 8:30 a.m. yesterday. But the driver slipped through on a second attempt, they said, and slowed down only slightly as sentries at the guard post outside the station yelled at him to stop.

The driver gave a friendly smile, then reached down under the dashboard and, as the sentries opened fire, the car exploded, Sgt. Mahmoud Shaker said.

Shaker said the blast lifted him off his feet and shrapnel shredded his leg and arms.

U.S. officials gave a slightly different account, placing the death toll at five, and saying they thought a pre-set car bomb was used in the attack.

The assault infuriated police from the station, whose main job is to rush the sick and wounded to hospitals rather than perform customary law-enforcement work.

"I am so sad," Shaker said from his hospital bed. "We have done nothing wrong to them. We are doing good for the people, trying to offer safety, and this is the result."

The car detonated a few feet in front of the courtyard wall encircling the police station, which, except for a few strands of razor wire, was unprotected. The blast shattered windows in the station and in neighboring buildings, and sprayed schoolchildren with debris as they walked to classes at the secondary school next door.

Doctors at the local hospital said they treated 26 people, including a dozen children who suffered mostly minor cuts.

Two people, identified by witnesses as janitors who were cleaning the outside of the police station, died, the doctors said.

American officials said the dead also included two Iraqi police and one member of the civil defense corps.

Also yesterday, U.S. officials said tests on mortar shells discovered by Danish forces in southern Iraq last week were negative for chemical agents. Authorities had initially suspected the shells held blister agent from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

"Based on the tests, the experts conclude that none of the shells contain chemical warfare agents," the Danish army statement said.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. weapons experts said the earlier results might have come back positive because the tests used by soldiers in the field are designed to favor a positive reading, erring on the side of caution to protect soldiers.

Meanwhile, Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and one of the government's leading Iraq experts, left Manila to return to Washington to become the new senior coordinator of the State Department's Iraq policy, U.S. officials said.

Ricciardone will help fashion policy as the department assumes a greater role in Iraq this summer, when the Coalition Provisional Authority shuts its doors.

Ricciardone was Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright's special coordinator for the transition of Iraq from 1999 to 2001.

A State Department spokesman said Ricciardone will help the government organize an Iraq "super office" at the State Department, even as diplomats organize the large new U.S. embassy that is to be opened July 1.

A former U.S. intelligence official said Ricciardone is expected to have a large degree of autonomy within the department. The former official said that, significantly, Ricciardone has not been an advocate of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi Governing Council member who has been supported by senior Pentagon officials.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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