Violence flares on Iraq war anniversary

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The Independent Online

At least eight civilians were killed in separate attacks in Iraq yesterday as Britain and America prepared to mark the first anniversary of the invasion.

A British patrol in Basra was targeted by a suicide bomber who killed three civilians. An accomplice who left the vehicle before the explosion was stabbed to death by passers-by. Two others suspected of involvement in the attack were arrested by police.

The incident, outside a Basra hotel, came less than 24 hours after a car bomb destroyed the Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad. That attack claimed 17 lives, among them a British engineer, Scott Mounce, 30. His British colleagueGiles Ash, 31, was injured. A US spokesman said it was a suicide bombing but added that the Mount Lebanon Hotel might not have been the intended target because the vehicle loaded with explosives was in the middle of the street and not parked in front of the hotel.

Further explosions shook two other hotels in Baghdad last night, frequented by foreign business people, contractors and media companies. Hotel guests said the blasts shook the Cedar and Rimal hotels, which face each other on a street in central Baghdad.

Basra, in the Shia south, long oppressed under Saddam Hussein, has seen fewer attacks than Baghdad and Sunni areas such as Fallujah and Baquba. The hotel had been regularly used for news briefings by the British military and by the civilian administration.

US troops at a checkpoint shot dead an Iraqi working for the Dubai-based satellite television channel al-Arabiya and wounded another as they drove through central Baghdad, al-Arabiya colleagues said. They said another car had raced towards the checkpoint, and the American troops then opened fire on both cars, killing cameraman Ali Abdulaziz and wounding the correspondent Ali al-Khatib.

In Baquba, north-east of the capital, three Iraqis employed by a US-funded TV station were shot dead yesterday.

There were also reports that a US helicopter came down south of Fallujah. Eight American soldiers were wounded in a gun battle as US administrators were meeting local officials.

The US military said that Wednesday's attack on the Baghdad hotel was carried out by the Ansar al-Islam group or masterminded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian accused by Washington of being Osama bin Laden's top man in Iraq.

The attack cast a shadow over a campaign by the White House to coincide with the anniversary tomorrow of the invasion, highlighting the progress made in Iraq over the past 12 months. The White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "Democracy is taking root in Iraq and there is no turning back."

* The President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, has admitted that countries were "misled" over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but warned Spain and other allies that withdrawing troops now could plunge the country into anarchy. In a surprisingly frank intervention, Mr Kwasniewski said that he was "very disappointed" by Spain's decision to pull its troops out of Iraq.

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