Iraq insurgents assert power with deluge of deadly attacks

35 people, including 3 Americans, are killed

capital shaken by bombs

April 30, 2005|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents greeted Iraq's new government yesterday with a devastating onslaught of suicide bombings, 10 of them in the Baghdad area, that killed 35 people, including three Americans, and left more than 100 wounded.

The blasts in Baghdad occurred within the space of a few hours yesterday morning, sowing panic across the city and underscoring the insurgency's undiminished capacity to stage the kind of spectacular, multiple attacks that sustain its potency.

Most were aimed at the Iraqi security forces, in a bloody reminder of the huge challenge confronting Iraq's day-old government as it prepares to take on responsibility for tackling the insurgency and winning the confidence of its citizens.

In an audio statement posted on the Internet, a voice purporting to belong to the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi urged his followers to keep up their attacks, saying the mujahedeen are winning the war against "the infidels."

A separate statement claimed responsibility for 10 of yesterday's attacks, though it wasn't clear which ones.

In the worst incident, four suicide attacks occurred within minutes in the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah in Baghdad, killing 13 people, nine of them soldiers and police.

At the site of one bombings, residents gathered around the remains of the suicide bomber on the street, spitting on his severed leg and torso and shouting curses.

"This is not jihad. Nobody in Azamiyah is happy today; nobody accepts that police, soldiers and innocent people are targeted," said Abdul Aziz al-Obaidi, a retired army officer.

Azamiyah is well known as a hotbed of insurgent sympathizers, but it has been quiet since Iraqi army units were given control over the area in February in an early attempt to replace U.S. soldiers with Iraqi ones on the streets of Baghdad.

A witness said that in the first of the attacks, soldiers in two Iraqi army vehicles cornered a suspicious car near a restaurant. When they jumped out and surrounded the driver, he detonated his car, killing himself and several of the soldiers, said Omar Ahmed, 27, a taxi driver who lives above the restaurant.

Dozens of shops and apartments were set ablaze by the huge blast, which ripped uniforms off the soldiers and left the shredded clothing dangling from nearby power lines.

Army Lt. Haidar Mohammed was rushing to the scene when the second suicide bomber struck, detonating his vehicle beside a police patrol less than 300 yards from the first blast.

"Today's blasts are intended to send a message to the new government but they will fail, and we will keep fighting them," Mohammed said.

Missing minority

Many residents were more skeptical, however, that a Shiite-dominated government already subjected to widespread criticism for failing to give greater representation to the country's Sunni minority will be able to end the violence.

"I'm not sure the new government will succeed because it is a sectarian government," said Abdel Aziz al-Obaidi, 59, a retired army officer living in Azamiyah.

"This is their first day," he said. "What's going to happen next month?"

Moments later, two more bombings in the neighborhood targeted a police barricade. They were followed by twin suicide bombings in the Baghdad neighborhood of Ghadiya that killed one.

The same morning, three suicide attacks in the town of Madain on the southern outskirts of Baghdad killed 13 people. Madain is a former insurgent stronghold that was recently taken over by U.S. and Iraqi security forces after Shiites said insurgents were massacring Shiite hostages.

Elsewhere, an American soldier died in a suicide bombing near Taiji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, and two were injured. Two U.S. Marines were killed in a suicide attack in Diyarah, in the turbulent western province of Anbar, the military said.

A 12th suicide bombing in Baqouba, two blasts in Basra and a roadside bomb in Irbil killed six people, bringing to 15 the number of bombings on one of the worst days of violence since the election in January.

Urged to attack

In his audio statement, al-Zarqawi assured followers that they are close to victory in Iraq.

"Your enemy the Americans are now in such dire straits they have started to send messages to open up a dialogue with the mujahedeen, but in vain. Never! It is a trick, and I want you to be aware of this trick," said the voice, apparently referring to reported communications opened between U.S. officials and some insurgents last month.

"Don't let the night come until your swords are dripping with the blood of the infidel," the voice said. "Attack any checkpoint, any barrier, any gathering of infidels and darken their day."

The U.S. military issued a statement condemning the attacks as "another desperate attempt by the terrorists to discredit the newly formed Iraqi government."

The U.S. military in Iraq has repeatedly said recently that the number of insurgent attacks is down, but this week Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the level of violence is back to where it was a year ago.

Speaking on CNN, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Gen. William Webster, acknowledged that while the number of attacks on American forces is down, the number of suicide car bombings has risen recently. Most suicide bombings target Iraqi civilians and security forces.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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