Suicide bombers kill 66 Iraqis as US troops meet fierce resistance

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The Independent Online

Suicide bombers have killed at least 66 people in the latest round of a campaign in which 400 Iraqis have died since a new government was formed two weeks ago.

Suicide bombers have killed at least 66 people in the latest round of a campaign in which 400 Iraqis have died since a new government was formed two weeks ago.

Many of the attacks are aimed at Shia Muslims. In Tikrit, a Sunni Arab city near where Saddam Hussein was born, the target of a suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives was a crowd of Shia workers from southern Iraq. They were standing beside the road by a small market at 7.15am yesterday looking for work as building labourers, a common sight in Iraqi cities, when the car ran into them and exploded. At least 28 people were killed and 60 wounded.

"What I saw was a tragedy," said Ibrahim Mohammed, a worker who had travelled from the Shia city of Kut, south of Baghdad. "Some people had their heads torn off by the explosion, some were burnt, some ripped to pieces."

The campaign has shown the ability of insurgents to mount many simultaneous attacks all over central and northern Iraq. Most of the suicide bombers are Saudi or Yemeni, pious young Muslims seeking martyrdom fighting infidels, but the infrastructure which supports them is Iraqi.

Little can be done to stop people intending to kill themselves. In Tikrit last Friday, a suicide bomber driving a taxi destroyed a police minibus at a checkpoint killing at least eight people and wounding seven. Police announced that, in future, nobody in Tikrit can drive alone, but it is doubtful if this rule is enforceable.

A second attack in the hardcore Sunni Arab town of Hawaija in the west of Kirkuk province yesterday was more devastating. A man with explosives strapped to his body had slipped into a police and army recruitment centre in the town though the building was protected by a cement wall topped with barbed wire. Even in this town, notorious as a resistance stronghold, the hunger for work is such that 150 men were waiting in the compound to get jobs in the security forces. Thirty were killed and 35 wounded, 15 of them critically.

"I was standing near the centre and all of a sudden it turned into a scene of dead bodies and pools of blood," said Sgt Khalaf Abbas of the police force.

In theory, each potential recruit should have been searched on entering the recruiting centre. "I am surprised the guards did not notice him," said Major-General Anwar Mohammed Ami of the Iraqi army. Iraqi security guards show an understandable lack of enthusiasm for successfully detecting suicide bombers.

Two further suicide bomb attacks were mounted yesterday, both in Baghdad. One bomber blew himself up in a car when he was blocked from reaching a police station in the southern district of Doura, the scene of frequent resistance attacks. Three civilians were killed. Another car exploded near a police patrol in the Mansour district killing two policemen and a civilian.

In the west of the country close to the Syrian border, some 1,000 US Marines, soldiers and sailors are fighting insurgents in villages along the Euphrates close to Qaim and Obeidi in an attack called Operation Matador. This is more in the style of US military operations in the first year of its war against the resistance.

The US military says it has killed 100 insurgents, but the claim is impossible to check. American journalists embedded with US forces say commanders are saying that resistance losses are much smaller.

US troops were reportedly meeting fierce resistance in Obeidi where the marines only captured one house after using grenades, a tank, a rocket launcher and bombs dropped by air support. In retaliation, gunmen kidnapped the governor of Anbar province, Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi, and said they would only release him if the US forces withdrew from Qaim.