Iraq civilian workers slain in bus attack

Insurgents kill 17 laborers employed by U.S. military

December 06, 2004|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents opened fire on a busload of laborers traveling toward a U.S. military base in Tikrit yesterday, killing 17 and capping a week of violence that left at least 80 Iraqis and 20 U.S. soldiers dead.

Yesterday's assault was the latest in a series of ambushes in predominantly Sunni Muslim areas; most of the attacks have targeted Shiite Muslims, ethnic Kurds and those working with the interim Iraqi government.

A bombing at a Shiite mosque in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad killed 17 people Friday, but Iraqi security forces have borne the brunt of the attacks. Insurgents attacked two police stations Friday and another the next day. On Saturday, a bus carrying Kurdish guards assigned to protect government property was blown up.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber killed four Iraqi national guardsmen near Baiji, north of Tikrit. Two more national guardsmen died in an attack near Latifiya, a Sunni-dominated town south of Baghdad, news agencies reported. And west of Samarra, insurgents opened fire on a joint U.S. military-Iraqi National Guard convoy, killing six of the Iraqis, witnesses said. However, U.S. military sources said one Iraqi died.

Calling the insurgents "forces of darkness," interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer said yesterday that the goal of the "people who are committing these atrocities unjustifiably is to stop us from having our first chance to taste the harvest of liberating Iraq."

With the planned Jan. 30 elections for a National Assembly fast approaching, the insurgents and the interim Iraqi government appear to be in a race to convince Iraqi citizens that their side will prevail.

Violence and fear threaten to make elections difficult if not impossible in some areas of the country. But if government forces can gain some traction, officials might be able to persuade what al-Yawer called Iraq's "silent majority" to participate in the vote and stand up to the insurgents.

Al-Yawer expressed confidence in the government security forces and said he thought the United States could begin to withdraw its troops within a year.

"In six months or eight months or a year" the troops can begin to be withdrawn, he said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I don't think it will take years."

After suffering at least 136 troop deaths in November - the most in any month since the war began - U.S. officials announced last week that they would add 12,000 troops ahead of January's vote, bringing the total force to 150,000. Al-Yawer said that until Iraqi security forces are robust, a U.S. withdrawal would be "bad for Iraq, the Middle East, the United States and the world."

U.S. and Iraqi troops have less than eight weeks to improve security, particularly in Sunni areas, where daily attacks diminish the chances of many people feeling free to vote. An election with low Sunni participation would likely foster resentment among Sunnis and lead to deeper divisions with Shiites, who are a majority in Iraq but were repressed under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

Los Angeles Times special correspondents in Najaf and Samarra contributed to this article. The Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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