At least 15 die in Iraq suicide attacks

Insurgents step up campaign to undermine security, raise tensions

December 05, 2004|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 15 people died in suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul yesterday as insurgents stepped up their campaign to undermine Iraq's security forces and sow ethnic tensions before elections scheduled for next month.

Suicide attackers in two vehicles killed at least eight people in a huge explosion at a police station in the heart of Baghdad, and seven members of a Kurdish militia group died when a suicide bomber rammed their minivan in the northern city of Mosul.

Elsewhere in Iraq, two U.S. soldiers and two members of the multinational coalition were killed in separate attacks, bringing to more than 40 the number of dead in two days of intensified violence in Iraq.

In the first strike of the day, two suicide bombers simultaneously detonated separate vehicles outside a Baghdad police station opposite the entrance to the fortified Green Zone, the U.S. military said.

The explosions could be heard for miles and shattered windows in government ministries and offices inside the zone.

The police station is directly opposite the main checkpoint leading into the Green Zone, the closely guarded enclave in the heart of Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and the offices of Iraq's interim government. The area was crowded with employees arriving for work at the time.

The Health Ministry did not release a total casualty figure for the attack, but a spokesman at Yarmuk hospital, where many of the victims were taken, said eight died and 38 were injured.

It was the second attack in two days to target police in Baghdad, adding to fears that the insurgents are shifting their campaign against the fledgling Iraqi security forces from Mosul back to Baghdad after a period of near calm.

It was also the second major suicide bombing in two days, suggesting the insurgents have recovered the capacity to stage large-scale attacks in the capital after the loss of their former stronghold in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

On Friday, 16 police officers died when their station was briefly overrun by insurgents in southwestern Baghdad, and 14 people were killed in a suicide bombing against a Shiite mosque in the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.

Later yesterday, a suicide bomber rammed a car into a minivan carrying members of the Kurdish militia in Mosul, where ethnic tensions have been rising between the northern city's Kurdish and Arab communities. Reports from the city said at least seven militiamen belonging to the pro-U.S. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan were killed in the blast.

U.S. commanders suspect many rebel fighters who escaped the assault on Fallujah have regrouped in Mosul. The U.S. military said yesterday that it had quelled what appeared to be a small uprising Friday by insurgents who attacked four police stations and briefly seized control of the streets.

Concerns are rising that the campaign targeting Iraq's fledgling security forces will inhibit plans to hold elections on schedule Jan. 30. The attacks against Shiites and Kurds also raised fears that ethnic tensions will deepen as the election date approaches.

Insurgents continued to target U.S. forces as well. One American soldier died and five were injured when a roadside bomb detonated in eastern Baghdad, and another U.S. soldier died and one was injured in an explosion near Baqouba, north of Baghdad, the military said.

On Friday night, two servicemen with the multinational forces in Iraq were killed in a suicide attack against a military base near Iraq's border with Jordan.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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