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An explosion of violence

Published : Jan 28, 2005 00:00 IST

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RORY MCCARTHY OSAMA MANSOUR DUSAN STOJANOVIC in Baghdad

THE Governor of Baghdad was assassinated in the Iraqi capital on January 4 in the most high-profile killing for several months as a new wave of violence swept across the country. In separate attacks, five American troops were killed and 10 Iraqis died when a suicide truck bomber drove into an Iraqi commando base in Baghdad early in the morning of January 4.

Dozens of people have now been killed in successive days of violence across the country in what appears to be a build-up in attacks ahead of the scheduled January 30 elections. A series of car bombs and explosions - one near the Prime Minister's party headquarters in Baghdad - killed at least 16 people on January 3 as insurgents pressed their campaign to disrupt the elections. Car bombings and roadside explosions have become a standard feature of the insurgency in Iraq.

A car bomb exploded at a United States-run checkpoint to the green zone, the heavily fortified area that houses the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government offices. Three bodies were seen burning inside the vehicle.

An Iraqi police lieutenant said the bomb targeted a U.S. non-military convoy and there were casualties at the checkpoint, which is the main green zone exit for the Baghdad international airport, west of the city. Meanwhile, Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan raised the possibility that the elections could be postponed to try to persuade minority Sunni Muslims to participate in the vote. He told reporters during a visit to Cairo that he had asked Egypt to try to persuade them. "We could postpone the date to let all Iraqis go to the polls in one day" if that would accommodate Sunnis, Shaalan said. U.S. and other Iraqi officials have insisted the vote would be held as planned.

Shaalan is known for taking an independent line, at one point prompting Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to distance publicly his interim government from Shaalan's statements. Fareed Ayar, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, said the body was functioning according to the electoral schedule. A low turnout because of violence or Sunni concerns about being disenfranchised could undermine the legitimacy of the first free elections since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958.

THE explosives-laden car, which struck near Allawi's party headquarters in Baghdad on January 3, killed two police officers and a civilian and injured 25 others. The radical Ansaral-Sunna Army - known for numerous deadly attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi forces and politicians - claimed responsibility for the strike.

Another car bomb attack took place in Balad, about 80 km north of the capital, killing four Iraqi National Guard soldiers and wounding 14. Another occurred in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, killing at least six guardsmen and injuring four others in a roadside explosion, the police said. On January 2, a car-bombing in Balad killed at least 22 national guardsmen and their bus driver. Ten other people were killed in separate attacks that day.

ALI AL-HAIDRI, the Governor of Baghdad province, was ambushed as he drove through the al-Hurriya suburb of northern Baghdad. He had survived at least one assassination attempt last year. Although he worked alongside the occupation forces, he had criticised the U.S. Last October he demanded that the U.S. troops leave the Green Zone, their fortified headquarters that dominate a large chunk of central Baghdad. Witnesses described how masked gunmen cleared the streets before the attack and then opened fire when Haidri's convoy drove past. They said the Governor's car drove on through the shooting, while two of the other cars stopped and fought a gun battle with the insurgents. But there was a second ambush point set up further along the street and the Governor came under fire again.

"I saw the Governor get out of the car. He was injured in the stomach but he was holding his mobile phone. He was standing and then he fell," said Namir Qassim Mahmoud, 21. "I ran forward and dragged him out. He was starting to die and he was calling to everyone: `Help me, help me."' Haidri was driven to the Yarmouk hospital but died shortly afterwards.

The Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by the Jordanian Abu Musabal-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attack and said that it had killed a "tyrant and American agent". It also claimed responsibility for a suicide truck bomb attack on the Iraqi commando base near Yarmouk hospital, the second time the base had been hit in recent months. The truck rammed through a police checkpoint, killing 10 people, including eight Iraqi commandos, and injuring 60.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 28, 2005.)

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