Bomb attacks on the rise as 'New Baath party' is born

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The Independent Online

Flames and smoke rose over Baghdad from a blazing building after an explosion that was aimed at a police patrol killed six and wounded seven passers-by instead.

Flames and smoke rose over Baghdad from a blazing building after an explosion that was aimed at a police patrol killed six and wounded seven passers-by instead.

"We saw a minivan parked outside an electrical goods store from the morning," said Abu Zahra, who has a stand selling refreshments, yesterday. "At 10, we heard the car blow up and it threw me to the ground. I nearly choked from the smoke. I saw at least five bodies scattered in the street."

Meanwhile, US and Iraqi army forces sealed off the northern town of Tal Afar, the scene of heavy fighting in the past, and imposed a curfew after a suicide bomb driven into the funeral tent of a Kurdish official killed 30 people and wounded 50 at the weekend.

The scale of the continuing violence in Iraq over the past year was underlined by a US report on the 4 March shooting by American troops of Italian security agent Nicola Calipari, the rescuer of the journalist Giuliana Sgrena who had been held hostage.

It also reveals there were 15,527 attacks on coalition forces, largely American, from July 2004 to late March 2005. Some 2,404 attacks took place in Baghdad from 1 November to 12 March.

The report was first issued by the US in a heavily censored form with sensitive information blocked out. But an Italian computer specialist discovered that the censorship was easy to remove.

The picture painted by the uncensored military report is in sharp contrast to the more optimistic views given by the Pentagon to the US media.

The bombings in the past week underline that the insurgents have lost none of their ability to carry out attacks, almost always without regard for civilian casualties, all over Iraq. In the three months since the elections on 30 January there was a drop in American losses which led to official optimism that the guerrilla war was on the wane.

There has been an increase in the number of assassination attempts against Iraqi senior security officers based on precise intelligence about their movements. A bomb yesterday slightly wounded Major-General Fuleih Rasheed, the commander of a police commando unit linked to the interior ministry, and two of his men in the Huriya district of northwest Baghdad. The bomb exploded as Maj-Gen Rasheed's convoy raced past the point.

A third bomb in Baghdad in the Zayouna district killed two policemen and wounded 10 people.

It is not clear how far the wave of bombings, some 17 of them in Baghdad, is a response to the formation of a new government dominated by the Shia and the Kurds. The Sunni community, the backbone of the insurgency, received few ministerial positions.

The insurgents are less interested in participation in the present government than in direct talks with the US, a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces and the right to rebuild the Baath party. In Sunni Arab towns and cities a so-called New Baath party is beginning to emerge and is said to be very well organised.

The attack on the Kurdish funeral in Tal Afar, a Shia Turkoman town west of Mosul, will sharpen sectarian and ethnic differences in the area. The bomber blew himself up as Kurds gathered to mourn Sayed Taleb Sayed Wahab, an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who was murdered three days earlier.

The Kurds see Tal Afar as being a stronghold of the resistance. "There are more than 250 dangerous terrorists there," Khasro Goran, the KDP leader and deputy governor in Mosul, said before the attack on the funeral. He was trying to get US support for an Iraqi army assault on the town.

Mr Goran said he had received a sympathetic hearing from the American military when he proposed a joint assault. There are two Iraqi National Guard battalions, whose men are all Kurds, in the region, supported by a police commando force "Wolf", which is mostly Shia.

A problem for the US is that political differences in northern Iraq are based on ethnic differences between Kurds, Turkoman and Sunni Arab. The Kurds are moving back into lands west of Mosul known as Sinjar from which they were evicted by Saddam Hussein.

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