Attack on minivan kills 11 workers in northern Iraq

Officials to extend security crackdown

April 05, 2007|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Assailants opened fire on a minivan carrying power-plant workers near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, yesterday, killing 11 of them in the second lethal assault on laborers in the area in five days.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi officials said a seven-week-old security crackdown in the capital, helped by an infusion of U.S. troops, would be extended to Mosul, in northern Iraq, and some other outlying areas.

In a sign of opposition to the security sweep, a jointly run U.S.-Iraqi security center in Sadr City, a Shiite Muslim stronghold in Baghdad, was attacked by mortars and a suicide car bomb. Two security officers and two civilians were wounded.

The car bomber was halted by blast barriers at the front gate and detonated his payload of explosives about 350 yards from the center's main building. A mortar round hit inside the compound around the same time. Nine people were injured in the two attacks.

The security center, like others around Baghdad, was set up as part of the U.S.-Iraqi crackdown on sectarian violence in the capital that began Feb. 13.

In yesterday's attack near Kirkuk, gunmen surrounded the minivan carrying workers in Haweeja, a mainly Sunni Muslim area south of the city, then opened fire. Seven laborers were killed instantly, and four died later, officials said.

Eight workers, four of them from the same family, were killed in a similar assault Saturday in the same district, which until now has been lightly policed. Those workers were employed at an Iraqi military base.

Power-plant workers said they would strike in protest of poor security in the area.

Kirkuk, an oil-rich city that ethnic Kurds hope to make part of their semiautonomous area in northern Iraq, has been the scene of increasing violence over the past week, including a truck bombing near a girls school Monday that killed at least 15 people, including a U.S. soldier.

The Iraqi government is embroiled in a debate over a plan to relocate and compensate thousands of ethnic Arabs who were sent to the city by Saddam Hussein to dilute Kurdish dominance.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have acknowledged that one unwanted effect of the security crackdown in Baghdad has been an upswing in attacks in provincial cities and towns, during which more than 500 Iraqis were killed last week. The move to extend the military crackdown to Mosul appeared to be aimed at reversing that trend.

"This operation is still ramping up," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a U.S. military spokesman, said in Baghdad.

In Mosul yesterday, a senior police official, Gen. Wathiq Alhamdani, escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb went off near his convoy. Five police officers were wounded.

"There are many terrorist groups that are using Mosul as a safe haven," Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said during a joint news conference with Caldwell inside the fortified Green Zone.

Caldwell said the third of five additional U.S. brigades being deployed in Iraq under President Bush's troop increase had arrived in Iraq and was taking up positions in Baghdad. He declined to say which units would be transferred to Mosul.

Last month, a U.S. Stryker battalion was diverted from Baghdad to neighboring Diyala to give the military additional mobility, firepower and troop strength in the strife-torn province.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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