Insurgents attack Iraqi interior ministry

Insurgents launched a surprise attack on Baghdad’s heavily guarded interior ministry building early on Monday, killing two police officers and wounding several others, officials said. Two British soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Iraq.

The assault in the capital lasted only about 10 minutes, police Major Falah al-Hamdani said. Five police officers were wounded.

Insurgent frequently attack Iraqi security forces, but brazen daytime strikes in the capital against heavily defended targets such as the interior ministry are rare.

The guerrillas, who used rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, withdrew after the short clash.
It was not clear whether they suffered any casualties.

At least four United States Apache and Blackhawk helicopters could be seen flying over the area in central Baghdad hours after the firefight, including one with large Red Cross signs on the fuselage.

The Apaches were later joined by US army patrols in armoured vehicles combing the streets in an apparent effort to hunt down the attackers.

In the past several weeks, there have been repeated warnings that the insurgents may be preparing for a series of strikes in Baghdad against high-profile targets such as Iraqi government facilities, foreign embassies and hotels where foreign contractors are housed.

The US military said its troops had detained seven suspected rebels during an early-morning raid on Friday in the western al-Rashid district of Baghdad.

During the raid, Task Force Baghdad soldiers uncovered weapons, $600 000 in Iraqi currency and fake Iraqi police uniforms, said a statement released on Monday.

One insurgent was wounded during a small-arms fire exchange during the raid.

In the al-Zubeir area, about 20km west of Basra, two soldiers died when their armoured Land Rover was destroyed by a roadside near the town of Shaibah. The deaths brought to 95 the number of British military personnel killed in Iraq.

In the northern town of Tal Afar, sporadic clashes were continuing on Monday, eyewitnesses said.

On Sunday, US troops killed seven insurgents in Tal Afar, including six who fired at the Americans from a mosque, the US command said. Iraqi officers said well-armed insurgents controlled the centre of Tal Afar and their ranks included fighters from Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Saddam trial complaint

Reports of the fighting came as Saddam Hussein’s lawyers complained they will not have enough time to prepare for his trial as the government officially set October 19 for the start of proceedings.

A legal adviser to Saddam’s family, Abdel-Haq Alani, said on Sunday that starting the trial next month would “undercut the defence capability to review the case”.

He was reacting to an announcement by the chief government spokesperson, Laith Kubba, that Saddam and seven former aides will be tried on October 19 in the 1982 massacre of 143 Shi’ite Muslims in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad.

Kubba’s announcement confirmed unofficial reports that the first trial of Saddam and key lieutenants will begin just days after the October 15 national referendum on Iraq’s Constitution.

Trying Saddam so soon after the referendum could further inflame sectarian tensions among Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs, many of whom oppose the draft charter.

If convicted, Saddam and the others could receive the death penalty.

Alani said the defence had received no official notice about the date, but complained that if October 19 was the start, it would not leave enough time to prepare.

“How can one review thousands and thousands of pages in just a matter of a few days?” he said by telephone from London. “This court has been deliberating with the evidence for the past year, but it has been keeping it away from the defence, which is not fair.”

The co-defendants include Barazan Ibrahim, the ousted regime’s intelligence chief and Saddam’s half-brother, and former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan. The others are lesser figures in the Saddam-era intelligence services or ruling Ba’ath Party.

Iraq’s Shi’ite- and Kurdish-dominated government is convinced that speedy trials for Saddam will expose crimes of his regime and undercut support for him within the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Other developments

  • Baghdad police said that a total of 13 civilians were killed overnight or early on Monday in several separate incidents. Four civilians died in a car-bomb attack on a military convoy.
  • Four civilians died and four others were injured when several mortar rounds impacted on their neighborhood early on Monday in the town of Baqouba, north of Baghdad, police said.
  • Eight civilians were killed in a car bombing in Hit, 140km west of Baghdad, authorities said on Monday.
  • About 1 500 people rallied in the mainly Sunni town of Ramadi to protest the draft Constitution.
  • —Sapa-AP