/ 23 March 2008

More than 50 die in Iraq bloodshed

A wave of attacks across Iraq on Sunday killed 51 people, while insurgents fired a barrage of mortars at Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, sending United States embassy staff scurrying into bunkers.

The deadliest attack was in the main northern city of Mosul where a suicide bomber crashed an explosives-laden truck into an Iraqi army base, triggering a blast that killed at least 12 soldiers and wounded dozens.

”The bomber smashed the truck through barriers at the entrance to the base and triggered the explosion” at about 4am GMT, army officer Major Mohammed Ahmed said. The US military in a statement blamed the attack on al-Qaeda and put the toll at 12 soldiers killed and 35 wounded.

Iraqi and US troops are engaged in a major offensive against al-Qaeda in Mosul, which according to US commanders is the jihadists’ last urban stronghold in Iraq.

In a brutal attack in the south of Baghdad, armed men travelling in three cars opened fire on crowds in a local market in the mixed Zafaraniyah neighbourhood, killing seven people and wounding 16, security and medical officials said.

In another attack in the Iraqi capital, a Katyusha rocket struck a residential building in largely Shi’ite eastern al-Kamaliyah neighbourhood, killing at least five people and wounding eight, security officials said.

A car bomb near a bus stop in Baghdad’s Shi’ite al-Shuala neighbourhood killed five people and wounded eight others, security officials said.

Further north, a roadside bomb near the town of al-Tuz, 75km south of Kirkuk, killed four Iraqi army personnel, a medic said.

The US military, meanwhile, said its troops raided a ”suicide bombing network” in Diyala province north-east of the capital, killing 12 men, six of whom who had shaved their bodies in ritual preparation for becoming human bombs.

Spokesperson Major Winfield Danielson said that the raid was launched east of the Diyala capital Baquba. When ground forces closed in on the ”target building”, they came under small arms fire, Danielson said, adding that the troops fired back. Assault weapons, ammunition and grenades were discovered on the site and destroyed.

”Six of the terrorists killed had shaved their bodies, which is consistent with final preparation for suicide operations,” Danielson said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, four people, including a police officer, were killed in shootings, police said, while in Baquba, two children died in a bomb blast.

The violence on Sunday began with a barrage of mortar fire against Baghdad’s Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government and the US embassy. Two waves of mortar rounds struck the area between 6.30am and 10.30am local time. They caused no casualties but sent panicked US embassy staff scurrying into bunkers, officials and witnesses said.

Black smoke was seen rising from the Green Zone and US attack helicopters were seen circling above the sprawling complex, which once served as Saddam Hussein’s presidential compound.

An employee in the Green Zone, Mohammed al-Dulaimi, who witnessed the second attack, said eight mortar rounds fell near the US embassy complex and two a little distance away in a residential area. ”They caused slight damage and one sparked a fire,” he said.

An embassy employee, who would not be named, said staff dashed for the embassy’s bunker after both attacks.

Insurgents and militiamen regularly fire mortars or rockets at the Green Zone, one of the most secure areas in Baghdad, although the frequency has diminished with a general improvement in security across the country.

The US military claims that most mortar rounds or rockets that hit the area are manufactured in Iran and fired by ”rogue” elements of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.

The latest bout of bloodletting comes after a brief lull in violence. The last major attack was in the shrine city of Karbala last Monday when a bomb attack near a revered Shi’ite shrine killed at least 52 people. — Sapa-AFP