Bombs kill 18, injure 50 in the war without end

In Britain, quibbling over Hutton. In Baghdad, the body count rises
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The Independent Online

A bomb outside a police station in Mosul, Iraq, left nine people dead and 45 others wounded yesterday while a roadside bomb killed three US soldiers when it ripped through their convoy near Kirkuk. Later in the day two separate explosions tore through the crowded residential area of Baldiyyat killing at least six people and wounding several others.

A bomb outside a police station in Mosul, Iraq, left nine people dead and 45 others wounded yesterday while a roadside bomb killed three US soldiers when it ripped through their convoy near Kirkuk. Later in the day two separate explosions tore through the crowded residential area of Baldiyyat killing at least six people and wounding several others.

Coming a day before the start of the four-day Eid festival, a major Muslim holiday, it has made the coalition forces extra alert ­ the start of Ramadan last year was accompanied by a sharp escalation in insurgent attacks.

The deaths capped a devastating but not exceptional week and provided a powerful reminder that, while those in Britain picked over the minutiae of the Hutton report, the situation on the ground is as deadly as ever. The war in Iraq, which the September 2001 intelligence dossier on weapons of mass destruction justified, has never ended.

The attack in Mosul, where policemen had gathered to pick up their pay, was made by a suicide bomber in a car, according to witnesses. It was powerful enough to hurl pieces of the vehicle 300 yards. The blast severed limbs and dismembered bodies; several cars caught fire, sending clouds of black smoke into the air.

The bomb which killed three soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, 25 miles from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, appears typical of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) ­ as the US army calls them ­ used with lethal frequency around Baghdad. It brings to 522 the number of US soldiers dead since the war to topple Saddam Hussein started on 20 March.

The identity of those behind the continuing suicide bombing campaign remains unclear, with the US claiming the bombers come from abroad ­ though it is likely that Iraqis are heavily involved in providing intelligence and logistics. But the attacks are carried out regardless of the Iraqi civilian casualties inflicted.

Only four days ago, on the day the Hutton report was released in Britain, a white ambulance drew up beside the Shahin hotel in the Karada area of Baghdad. The driver told a policeman who asked him what he was doing there that "I was told to pick up the body of somebody who had just died". The policeman said he did not know anything about a body. At this point the driver stamped on his accelerator to bring the vehicle closer to the hotel. The police realised he was a suicide bomber and opened fire. It was too late. The ambulance blew up. The explosion killed three people, gutted the Shahin and smashed down the walls of a police station across the road.

Iraqis are becoming accustomed to living in the middle of terrible violence. Bombs like the one outside the Shahin have become the norm and are soon forgotten. Although the explosion was very large, ripping apart the hotel and nearby buildings, it was not as devastating as the bomb which 10 days earlier killed at least 25 people as they waited at the gates of the US headquarters in Baghdad.

The danger for the US and Britain is that they face a series of interlinked conflicts in Iraq. There are the suicide bomb attacks, the perpetrators still mysterious, which are impossible to stop. There is the guerrilla war in Sunni Muslim areas which continues despite the capture of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Shias, a majority of the population, are taking to the streets to demand free elections. The Kurds, opposed by other Iraqis, are demanding a degree of autonomy close to independence.

Events in Iraq last Tuesday, the day Tony Blair first saw the Hutton report, provide a snapshot of the endemic violence in the country. It was a bad day by Iraqi standards, but not uniquely so. Six American soldiers were killed ­ the way they died being typical of the war now being fought. At about 1pm a convoy of the 82nd Airborne Division was driving along the lethal stretch of highway at Khaldiyah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, when a bomb exploded beside the road. "The vehicle was lifted from the ground by the explosion," said a witness.

When US reinforcements arrived a second bomb exploded. Three paratroopers were killed immediately and a fourth was critically wounded. US retaliatory fire, very random after such ambushes, killed two Iraqis, a taxi driver hit in the face by a bullet and Hadi Abd Shehab, Khalidyah's director of agriculture, hit as he stood by his office window.

The roadside IED has become the most dangerous weapon of the guerrillas, far more so, say US sappers, than attacks with rocket-propelled grenade launchers or machine guns. The typical IED is several huge 155mm or 122mm artillery shells, with blasting caps to detonate them, linked to a battery. The signal causing the explosion is sent directly by a command wire or by a remote such as a mobile phone or a car door opener.

The US army has found no real answer to these simple but effective weapons. Late in the day on Tuesday another roadside bomb blew up at Iskandariyah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing a further three troops. Other people were dying on Tuesday from different types of violence at different places throughout Iraq. South of the capital two vehicles belonging to CNN were ambushed and a translator/ producer and a driver were killed by gunfire. In the Shia holy city of Karbala, where Poles are the main foreign force, gunmen drove up to their headquarters and opened fire, killing one Iraqi policeman and wounding two others. Karbala has seen a number of well-planned attacks ­ surprisingly, since it was deeply hostile to Saddam Hussein, whose solders killed so many local people in the uprising of 1991.

Further north at Ramadi, guerrillas attacked a police station, killing three policemen.

US generals claim that the number of guerrilla attacks is down compared to November. But there may be a very simple reason for this: troops in the field say they no longer bother to log attacks unless they suffer casualties, because there are so many of them.

Tony Blair and his government have countered reports of continuing guerrilla war by pointing out that it is mainly confined to parts of Iraq inhabited by Sunni Muslims, the base of Saddam's support and the main losers in the war last year. But it is not only the Sunni who are at odds with the coalition. The majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslims, who believe their day has come after centuries of Sunni domination. They see the indirect elections, through a complex electoral system run by US-appointed politicians and officials, as an attempt to deny them power.

On Wednesday a crowd rallied in front of the office of the US-appointed governor in Nasiriyah, Sabri Rumayidh, shouting: "No to Israel! No to imperialism! No to America!" By Thursday he had been forced to leave his office, leaving it padlocked and empty.

The only Iraqi community that has wholeheartedly co-operated with the coalition is the Kurds. But they want de facto control of a large slice of Iraq. On Wednesday Kurds in the oil-city of Kirkuk were signing a petition, some pricking their fingers to write in their own blood, demanding full Kurdish independence.

In Britain the political crisis over the failure to find WMD and the Hutton report has masked the failure of the coalition to stabilise Iraq nine months after the end of the war. The points of friction between the coalition and the different Iraqi communities are growing in number, not diminishing. In the meantime, Iraqis must try to live with an extraordinarily high level of violence.

Four days of violence

Tuesday

7.10 am: Just hours before Tony Blair gets advance copy of Hutton report, two bombs explode next to 82nd Airborne Division convoy passing through Khaldiyah, west of Baghdad, killing three US soldiers and critically wounding another. Two Iraqi civilians die near scene, reportedly as result of fire from US troops.

Mid morning: Three Iraqi insurgents die during US raids on buildings in Beiji, north of Saddam's home city of Tikrit. Five other Iraqis captured.

Late morning: US forces discover car bomb in parking area near offices of US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Midday: Insurgents fire at Iraqi police post in front of Polish military base in Karbala. Gun battle leaves one policeman dead and two injured.

Early afternoon: Two CNN employees, a driver and translator, die in ambush. Cameraman in another car is wounded.

8pm: Three US troops die when bomb explodes near Iskandariyah. Three others wounded.

Wednesday

6.40am: Three Iraqis die and up to 17 wounded in suicide bomb attack on Shahin hotel, Baghdad.

Late morning: Bulgarian peacekeepers in Karbala come under mortar fire. No casualties.

Day: 10,000 people demonstrate in Nasiriyah outside office of governor, later forced to flee.

Late afternoon: US army's chief of staff, Gen Peter J Schoomaker, says he may have to keep tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq until 2006.

Thursday

8.40am: Five people injured as roadside bomb explodes during rush-hour near sports stadium in central city of Baqouba.

Mid morning: One member of Iraqi Civil Defence Corps dies in rocket-propelled grenade attack on checkpoint south of Kirkuk.

Mid morning: Ten people injured, two seriously, when explosives hidden in cart carrying diesel detonates as Iraqi Civil Defence Corps patrol passes through Baqouba, north of Baghdad. Eight of injured are corps members, two are bystanders.

Day: Shopkeepers in Ramadi report receiving leaflets warning them to stop working for or with Americans within 10 days or face death.

Day: One Iraqi dies and 11 others wounded when roadside bomb explodes by convoy carrying captured Iraqis as it passes near central town of Miqdadiyah.

Mid morning: Three Iraqi bystanders injured when roadside bomb explodes as convoy carrying civilian officials passes through Basra.

Late afternoon: Car bomb placed on al-Hawija bridge near Kirkuk is defused by US forces. Bridge is on major oil route used by tankers transporting crude from northern oilfields to Iraq's biggest refinery at Beiji.

Friday

Early morning: Insurgent shot dead by police in Salman Beg, south of Kirkuk, after six men open fire on a checkpoint. Another attacker injured.

Mid morning: Brig-Gen Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for coalition, reports that in past week there has been a daily average of 18 engagements with coalition forces, plus four daily engagements with Iraqi security units.

Late afternoon: Roadside bomb explodes at intersection in central Baghdad. No reported casualties.

Late afternoon: In London, Andrew Gilligan becomes third BBC figure to resign in wake of Hutton report.

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