|09-14-2004, 11:56 AM||Topic Starter|
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News: Insurgents Target Iraqi Police; 59 Dead
By SAMEER N. YACOUB
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A car bomb Tuesday ripped through a busy market near a Baghdad police headquarters where Iraqis were waiting to apply for jobs on the force, and gunmen opened fire on a van carrying police home from work in Baqouba, killing at least 59 people total and wounding at least 114.
The attacks were the latest attempts by militants to wreck the building of a strong Iraqi security force, a keystone of the U.S. strategy for ending the unflagging insurgency ahead of nationwide elections slated for January and for allowing an eventual withdrawal of American forces.
Despite U.S. claims that Iraqi forces are showing more resolve to fight, insurgents have only grown stronger and have shown they can strike at will, particularly in Baghdad. Tuesday's attacks came only two days after a surprise insurgent offensive in the capital that saw mortars pounding downtown Baghdad and left 60 dead.
The Tawhid and Jihad group, headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, posted a Web statement claiming responsibility for the car bomb in the capital. The al-Qaida-linked group said earlier it carried out Sunday's campaign of attacks and boasted that it had the upper hand in the fight against the Americans and their Iraqi allies.
Tuesday's car bomb exploded by a bustling row of shops and cafes and left a gaping 10-foot crater in Haifa Street - the same central avenue where much of Sunday's violence took place.
The blast devastated buildings and gutted cars near the western Baghdad police headquarters. Though the attack apparently targeted police, many of the 47 dead were people who had been shopping or having a morning meal. At least 114 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Saad Al-Amili said.
Paramedics and residents picked up body parts scattered across the street and put them into boxes. Anguished men lifted bodies burned beyond recognition and lay them gently on stretchers. Helicopters circled.
Afterward, angry crowds of young men pumped their fists in the air and denounced President Bush and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, saying they had failed to protect Iraqis. "Bush is a dog," they chanted.
In Baqouba, gunmen in two cars opened fire Tuesday on a van carrying policemen, killing 11 officers and a civilian, said Qaisar Hamid of Baqouba General Hospital.
It was at least the second recent attack on security forces in Baqouba: On July 28, a car bomb exploded outside a police recruiting center in the eastern, Sunni-dominated city, killing at least 68 people.
Also Tuesday, the military said three American soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in separate attacks in Iraq in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, saboteurs blew up a junction where multiple oil pipelines cross the Tigris River in northern Iraq on Tuesday, setting off a chain reaction in power generation systems that left the entire country without power, officials said.
Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze after the pre-dawn attack near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Crude oil cascaded down the hillside into the river. Fire burned atop the water, fueled by the gushing oil.
The morning car bomb in Baghdad ripped through would-be recruits waiting in line at the police headquarters and market-goers. The bomb was inside a Toyota vehicle parked near the market and a short distance down the road from the police headquarters, which was closed to traffic, said Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdel-Rahman.
"Seconds earlier, people were drinking tea or eating sandwiches and then I could see their remains hanging from trees," said Mahdi Mohammed, 30, who was standing outside his barber shop when the explosion went off. "I could see burning people running in all directions."
Ali Abul-Amir had been waiting in line to join the police force but had gone around the corner to buy a drink when the explosion went off.
"Such places were targeted before," he said. "I blame Ayad Allawi's government for what happened because they did not take the necessary security measures."
Others, however, directed their anger at the militants.
"Such acts cannot be considered part of the resistance (against American forces). This is not a jihad, they are not mujahideen," said Amir Abdel Hassan, a 41-year-old teacher. "Iraq is not a country, it's a big graveyard," he said.
The violence has escalated despite the installation of Allawi's government in June and now raises worries over the January elections.
The U.S. military has been training Iraqi police and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members for more than 18 months. But the Iraqis have still been unable to take over the main duties in fighting the insurgency.
Attacks on Iraqi security forces and police officers - seen as collaborators by militants - have left hundreds of people dead since insurgents began a 17-month campaign to expel U.S.-led forces.
From April 2003 to May 2004, 710 Iraqi police were killed out of a total force of 130,000 officers, authorities said. Since May, at least another 180 people have been killed in attacks targeting police facilities. Insurgents have also kept up a steady drumbeat of smaller scale attacks on police checkpoints and assassinations of police officials.
The forces' weakness were highlighted in April, when police largely abandoned their stations in the face of an uprising by Shiite militiamen in Baghdad and southern cities. When the militia rose up again last month, U.S. forces carried out the vast majority of the fighting.
After the April disaster, the Army general formerly in charge of training, Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, acknowledged that misguided U.S. methods had wasted almost a year's worth of training.
U.S. commanders now say they're beefing up their training efforts, trying to improve the Iraqi officer corps and supply the security forces with the sort of heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers that they have lacked but that insurgents have had in plentiful supply.
Bush administration officials have also been insisting they have a plan for stopping the insurgency.
Bathsheba Crocker, an analyst with the U.S.Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned whether U.S and Iraqi leaders have a workable strategy.
"The security situation is chaotic and it seems to be deteriorating," she said, adding that the insurgents' attacks in the capital were "probably very deliberate. No security in Baghdad means there is no security in the country."
"It signifies that the insurgency is growing in sophistication and organization. It is more capable of carrying out all these major and synchronized attacks," she said.