Iraq: One week, more than 180 dead

Iraqi officials have promised to deploy up to 10 000 extra men to boost security ahead of a December 15 general election after a rebel bombing campaign killed more than 180 people in the past week.

The latest attacks, a suicide car bomb against a hospital in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, on Thursday, killed 30. A car bomb in a shopping district of Hilla, also on Thursday, left three dead and 16 wounded.

An increase in violence is widely expected before the election, the final stage in Iraq’s transition to democracy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

United States forces, meanwhile, have just concluded a three-week operation, code-named Iron Curtain, in western Iraq designed to root out insurgent strongholds near the Syrian border.

US Major General Rick Lynch said earlier this week that since mid-September, US-led forces had killed more than 700 rebels and captured 1 500 suspects in western Iraq. There was no independent confirmation.

Both US and Iraqi officials have warned of the likelihood of increasing violence ahead of the elections.

Sunni rebels, including Jordanian-born Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, have sought to spark sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’ites in a bid to increase the chaos and discredit the US-backed government.

Some of the bloodiest bomb attacks, including one a week ago against two mosques in Khanaqin on the Iranian border, which killed 80 people, have targeted Shi’ite civilians.

Several Sunni Arab political and religious leaders have also been gunned down over the past weeks, including a Sunni tribal leader and four of his relatives early on Wednesday morning by gunmen dressed like Iraqi soldiers.

In the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ibrahim Saleh Othman, was kidnapped on Thursday and his body found a few hours later, police said.
He had been shot.

New twist

Meanwhile, the government warned of a possible new twist in attacks after the Iraqi army announced it had seized a number of booby-trapped children’s dolls.

The dolls, found in a car, each contained a grenade or other explosive, said an army statement. The government said two men driving the car had been arrested in the western Baghdad district of Abu Ghraib.

“This is the same type of doll as that handed out on several occasions by US soldiers to children,” said government spokesperson Leith Kubba, who suggested insurgents were preparing to attack children.

Three US soldiers were killed on Thursday in Iraq as troops celebrated Thanksgiving. Two were killed by a roadside bomb and one when an M-1 Abrams tank rolled over.

The latest deaths brought to at least 2 111 the number of US military personnel killed since the March 2003 invasion, according to a toll based on Pentagon figures.

According to the United Kingdom-based Iraq Body Count website, between 27 101 and 30 545 ordinary Iraqis have died since the invasion in March 2003.

US soldiers in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Djibouti consumed about 130 tonnes of turkey and 65 tonnes of boneless ham on the occasion of Thanksgiving, with troops in Iraq roasting whole pigs on spits.

In the US, President George Bush enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal at his Texas ranch, while war protesters held a rival feast down the road at their makeshift camp.

The president telephoned 10 people serving overseas in the US armed forces before dining on roasted free-range turkey with gravy and whipped sweet potatoes, as well as pecan pie and pumpkin pie, according to the White House.

Trial

In Baghdad, security officials were preparing for the resumption on Monday of the trial of Saddam Hussein, who along with seven co-accused faces charges linked to the killing of 148 Shi’ite villagers.

The first witnesses for the prosecution are expected to be called, and could do so from behind screens or with faces masked to protect their anonymity, according to a US official close to the tribunal.

“It’s up to the individual witnesses whether or not they show their faces or whether their identity is disguised in some other way” to protect their anonymity in a country wracked by violence where two defence lawyers have already been shot dead, the official said.

Witnesses will offer evidence related to the killings of the villagers after a failed assassination attempt against the former dictator in 1982 in the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Saddam and his co-accused could face execution if found guilty.—Sapa-AFP

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