Suicide bombers kill scores while Marines launch battles

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The Independent Online

Suicide bombers killed more than 60 people in three Iraqi cities today, police said. The attacks occurred in northern and central Iraq, as hundreds of US Marines pushed through a troubled region of Iraq near the Syrian border in a military offensive aimed at supporters of the country's most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Suicide bombers killed more than 60 people in three Iraqi cities today, police said. The attacks occurred in northern and central Iraq, as hundreds of US Marines pushed through a troubled region of Iraq near the Syrian border in a military offensive aimed at supporters of the country's most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Today's bombings killed 61 people and wounded 124 in five separate bombings in Hawija, Tikrit and Baghdad.

In Hawija, a small city 150 miles north of Baghdad, a man with explosives hidden under his clothes set them off while standing in a line of about 150 men waiting outside a police and army recruitment, killing 30 people and wounding 35, said police Maj. Sarhad Qadir.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, 80 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb exploded in a small market near a police station, killing at least 27 people and wounding 75, said police Capt. Hakim al-Azawi.

When heavy security in the area prevented the attacker from reaching the police station, he swerved into a crowd of people at the market, many of them day workers who had traveled to Tikrit from poor areas to work on local construction sites, police said.

In Baghdad, three car bombs exploded, killing four people and wounding 14, police said.

The worst blast occurred in the southern neighborhood of Dora near a police station, killing three civilians and wounding nine, said police Col. Salam Alak.

In Yarmouk, an area of west Baghdad, a suicide car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in Jordan Square, killing a woman civilian and wounding three policeman, said police Lt. Col. Kadhim Abbas.

In New Baghdad, an eastern area of the capital, a car bomb exploded near al-Darweesh bakery about 100 meters (yards) from a police patrol, wounding two civilians and damaging civilian cars parked nearby, said police Lt. Col. Ahmed Aboud.

The attacks came after yesterday's clashes close to the Syrian border, where more than 1,000 US Marines, soldiers and sailors in Operation Matador battled past well-armed militants who had fought from basements, rooftops and sandbag bunkers.

Insurgents also kidnapped the region's provincial governor as a bargaining chip.

As many as 100 insurgents were killed in the first 48 hours of the offensive, which began late Saturday night, as US troops cleared villages along the meandering Euphrates River, then crossed in rafts and on a pontoon bridge, the US command said.

Many of the dead remained trapped under rubble after attack planes and helicopter gunships pounded their hideouts.

At least three Marines were reported killed and 20 wounded during the first three days of the offensive - the biggest US operation since Fallujah was taken from extremists six months ago.

The operation was launched after US intelligence showed al-Zarqawi followers had taken refuge in the remote desert region - a haven for smugglers and insurgent suppliers. The fighters were believed to have fled to Anbar Province after losses in Iraqi cities.

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