Suicide bombers step up attacks in Iraq and leave 14 dead

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The Independent Online

Suicide bombers struck twice in Iraq yesterday, killing 13 Iraqis and one US soldier. Three Italian hostages and a Pole were rescued by American forces south of Baghdad after two months in captivity.

Suicide bombers struck twice in Iraq yesterday, killing 13 Iraqis and one US soldier. Three Italian hostages and a Pole were rescued by American forces south of Baghdad after two months in captivity.

The worst bomb attack took place in the northern city of Mosul, when a taxi carrying three men blew up near the mayor's office in the centre of the city. Nine Iraqis were killed and 25 wounded. An hour earlier a car bomb exploded outside a US base near Baquba north of Baghdad, killing four Iraqis and one US soldier. Ten soldiers, a foreign contractor and six Iraqis were wounded.

The bombings repeat a pattern established over the past year whereby suicide attacks are most frequent when the general insurgency is not active.

Whoever directs the suicide bombers is intent on ensuring that the political temperature in Iraq remains high. The US wants to cool the situation before the handover of sovereignty on 30 June. It pulled back at the last minute from storming Fallujah and Najaf because of fears of the political backlash.

The Italian hostages were flown by helicopter to Baghdad and will return to Italy today. The four captives were security guards taken prisoner on 12 April at the height of the uprising. Another Italian prisoner was killed by his captors. The place the hostages were hidden was discovered several days ago, according to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister. Local religious authorities had been approached to help with the release, but later an opportunity arose to rescue them. There are 2,700 Italian troops in Iraq.

Fewer foreign workers and security guards have been taken hostage in recent weeks but more are being killed in the main cities and roads. On some highways, scouts monitor cars for foreigners. If they spot one, they attack. There has also been a rash of assassinations of middle-ranking figures associated with the interim government. Gunmen are showing more confidence striking at vehicles on the airport road - the usual route for foreigners in and out of the country.

Iraqi officials said yesterday that they had taken control of their oil industry. Iyad Allawi, the Prime Minister, said: "Today the most important natural resource has been returned to Iraqis to serve all Iraqis." He added: "In the past, Iraqi oil was used in building palaces, buying weapons and to achieve one person's goals." Thamir Ghadbhan, the Oil Minister, said: "We are running the show, the oil policies will be implemented 100 per cent by Iraqis."

Iraq's oil output has been hit by damage to pipelines and pumping stations during the war, and guerrilla attacks.

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