Iraq attacks signal start of Ramadan offensive

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The Independent Online

Bombs, mortars and gunfire left dozens dead and injured in Iraq within hours of insurgents announcing a Ramadan offensive.

The attacks, three of them in Baghdad, came just days after US General David Petraeus's report said violence had fallen and President George Bush declared "ordinary life was returning to the country".

Iraqi police said nine were killed and 12 injured in shootings at Mansour, one of the busiest parts of Baghdad, when either American troops or private military contractors opened fire on a crowd after coming under sniper attack. The US military said the incident was being investigated.

Those shootings followed a car bomb outside a store on a street crowded with shoppers, killing three and wounding seven. Soon after, a mortar landed at the Shaab stadium near the city centre, killing two men.

The attacks in the capital followed a roadside bomb overnight at a bread queue for Iftar, the evening breaking of fast during the Muslim holy month. Eleven people, including three children, were killed, and nine were wounded.

Farah Abdullah, a 34-year-old teacher whose cousin was injured in the Mansour attack, said: " Why did this happen today? We have not been able to get out of our neighbourhood for days. We only came out today to buy food and this happened to us. They [the Americans and Iraqi police] have all these checkpoints so why didn't they stop these people?" Elsewhere, 15 people were killed at Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad, by gunmen who also set a dozen shops alight. Two more were killed by mortar fire in Samarra.

In Hilla, south of Baghdad, a traffic policeman and his 16-year-old son were abducted. Their bodies, with marks of torture, were later found dumped. In Baquba a boy of six was killed by sniper fire.

And at Tuz Khormato, near Kirkuk, a booby-trapped bicycle exploded outside a café serving food during the traditional fasting hours, killing at least eight and injuring 19. Rescuers expected the death toll to rise as they dug through the rubble.

The Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic State of Iraq, which is said to be linked to al-Qa'ida, had announced it would carry out "offensive operations" during Ramadan to commemorate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born founder of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, who was killed in a US air strike in June last year.

Meanwhile, the US military captured Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayyas al-Jumayli, a suspect in the assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a key US ally, in Anbar province last Thursday. The Islamic State of Iraq group threatened to hunt down any other tribal leaders co-operating with the US. It said it had formed "special security committees to trace and assassinate prominent [leaders] of agent tribes" who co-operated with the Americans.

The US military said it had been in talks with some Shia leaders in the south of the country. American soldiers may help to train their young men, who may be used to bolster security on the Iranian border.