Iraqi rebels parade downed helicopter

Insurgents in Iraq have released a video showing the burned-out wreckage and 11 victims of a helicopter crash, as Washington insisted it is able to stop rebel attacks amid another horrific discovery of corpses.

Amid fears that violence is spiralling to new highs, Iraqi politicians continued to quarrel over the make-up of the new government, nearly 12 weeks after general elections won by the majority Shi’ites and their Kurdish allies.

The bodies of 19 executed Iraqi soldiers, kidnapped a few days ago at a rebel checkpoint, were found dumped near the oil refinery town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, police said.

“Police found 19 dead Iraqi soldiers in Baiji. They were taken hostage three or four days ago. They were found in a deserted place between Asainiya and Baiji, with bullet holes to the head and stomach,” said Captain Saad Nafos, police commander in Baiji.

The rebels were said to have initially shot dead two soldiers at the checkpoint before kidnapping the 19 who were pulled from minivans.

Baiji, home to Iraq’s largest refinery, 200km north of Baghdad, has been identified by the United States military and Iraqi officials as having a strong insurgency presence.

Reports on Wednesday spoke of 19 Iraqi soldiers executed by insurgents in a stadium in Haditha, western Iraq.

The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed the shooting-down of a Bulgarian helicopter in Iraq that killed 11 foreigners, including six US security workers, releasing on the internet a video showing what it said was wreckage of the stricken craft and the corpses of victims.

The group also claimed to have captured and executed one of the victims.
A voice was heard on the video saying “Look at this filth”, over the image of a wounded individual lying down in the field.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up, go ... go,” orders a voice, which then asks for a weapon. The wounded person stands up staggering, before being gunned down.

In other unrest, four Iraqi border guards, including a colonel, were wounded on Friday morning in a roadside bombing near Basra, in the south of the country, police said.

One US soldier was killed and another wounded early on Friday when a bomb exploded close to their patrol vehicle near Tall Afar, in northern Iraq, the US military said in a statement. It followed the announcement late on Thursday of two US marines killed in a bomb blast on Wednesday in al-Anbar province.

The deaths bring to 1 556 the number of US military personnel killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion two years ago.

Despite a two-week upswing in the level of violence, Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence DiRita said on Thursday the average number of attacks remains inferior to those before the US returned sovereignty to Iraqis in June.

“The commanders wonder whether [the insurgents] are marshalling their dwindling capacity on being able to conduct ... what appears to be better coordinated attacks—more spectacular and perhaps fewer more spectacular attacks,” he said.

“But the fact is that the security and coalition are developing some capacity to interrupt these things or to stop them before they cause real damage,” he added.

The upbeat assessment followed a week of multiple car bombings, an assassination attempt against outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, killings of top Iraqi officers and reports of dozens of bodies pulled from the Tigris river.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suggested the bodies were those of Shi’ites recently kidnapped in Madain, on the southern outskirts of the capital, but other top government officials have denied there were any kidnappings and DiRita said the report has not been verified by the US military.

However, some US insurgency experts are giving far more downbeat estimates than DiRita.

“It is immaterial if attacks on American and coalition forces in the aggregate are down. What matters isn’t the number but the quality of the attacks and how the Iraqi people are affected,” Bruce Hoffman, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, which advises the Pentagon, said.

“From what I can see, both the Iraqi people and especially their security forces are still very squarely in the insurgents’ sights and, moreover, the insurgents are having success targeting them.”

On the political front, Adnan Ali, an aide to incoming prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said on Friday there is still no agreement between all factions on the government make-up.

“We still have not been able to reach agreement to announce the government,” he said.

Allawi’s al-Iraqiya coalition is refusing to join the new government unless its demands for at least one key Cabinet post are met.

“We’ve already talked three months, we have already lost three months and this government is supposed to make the right environment for [drafting a new] Constitution ... the more time we will give to this, the less time we have to achieve and worry about the political process instead of the new Iraq,” Ali said.

“Everybody agreed and everybody knew which places belonged to whom, so there’s no need for anymore delay, we’ve got to move forward.”—Sapa-AFP