Suicide attack kills 13 at Baghdad’s Green Zone; seven U.S. Marines die in combat in western Iraq
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A suicide car bomber linked to al-Qaida killed 13 people in Baghdad on Monday, the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s capture, and clashes resumed in Fallujah, a one-time insurgent stronghold that American forces believed they had conquered. Seven Marines died in combat in western Iraq.
The violence underlines the difficulties U.S.-led forces have encountered in the year and a half since Saddam’s ouster in trying to end a rampant insurgency and bring the country under control. U.S. military commanders acknowledge they initially underestimated the strength of the insurgent backlash and admit coalition-trained Iraqi security forces are not yet up to securing their own country.
The fighting in Anbar, a vast province including Fallujah and Ramadi, was the deadliest for U.S. forces since eight Marines were killed by a car bomb outside Fallujah on Oct. 30. The deaths brought to nearly 1,300 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
In Baghdad, a militant in an explosives-laden car waiting in line to enter the western Harthiyah gate of the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraq’s interim government, detonated the vehicle as he drove toward the checkpoint, police said.
Dr. Mohammed Abdel Satar of Baghdad’s Yarmouk Hospital said 13 people were killed and 15 wounded in the suicide blast. The U.S. military said there were no injuries to its troops.
Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq group claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted on an Islamic web site regularly used by militants.
“On this blessed day, a lion from the (group’s) Martyrs’ Brigade has gone out to strike at a gathering of apostates and Americans in the Green Zone,” the group said in a statement, the authenticity of which could not be immediately verified.
The international zone has been the scene of frequent insurgent attacks in the past 18 months, killing and wounding dozens of people in car bombings or mortar barrages.
In Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded and wrecked two U.S. Humvees, wounding three U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi civilian, Lt. Col. James Hutton said.
Jubilant Iraqi men were seen holding up pieces of the Humvees and dancing around their charred hulks, with a large crater blown into the road.
In Mishahda, 25 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen attacked an Iraqi National Guard patrol, killing three soldiers and wounding three others. The attackers fled, witnesses said.
Iraq’s interim President Ghazi al-Yawer said in an interview broadcast Monday that the U.S.-led coalition was wrong to dismantle the Iraqi security forces after last year’s invasion.
“Definitely dissolving the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior was a big mistake at that time,” al-Yawer told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
It would have been more effective to screen out former regime loyalists than to rebuild from scratch, he added.
“As soon as we have efficient security forces that we can depend on we can see the beginning of the withdrawal of forces from our friends and partners and I think it doesn’t take years, it will take months,” he said.
U.S. forces retook Fallujah from insurgents in a bloody battle last month in which hundreds died, including at least 54 Americans. The city had fallen under the rule of radical clerics and their mujahedeen fighters after Marines lifted a three-week siege of the city in April.
After the latest campaign, U.S. commanders claimed they had broken the back of the insurgency in the mainly Sunni Muslim areas of western Iraq and that Iraqi security forces would start being phased in to take over, but fighting in the region has continued.
“We have come light years from April when they (Iraqi security forces) refused to even come out to Fallujah,” Marine Lt. Col. Dan Wilson said. “We are in the process of phasing more ISF into Fallujah … (and) are better equipped to intuitively know who belongs in the city, and who does not.”
On Sunday, American jets dropped 10 precision-guided missiles on insurgents’ positions in Fallujah after militants fought running battles with coalition forces. It was unclear if there were any insurgent casualties.
“We are still running into some of these die-hard insurgents that have either come back into the city or have been laying low,” spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert said. “As we are bringing in contractors to help with the reconstruction of Fallujah, this (fighting) slows the process down.”
It also was unclear whether the latest Marine deaths were connected with those clashes. The military said only that seven Marines died in two incidents while conducting “security and stabilization operations” in Anbar province.
In nearby Ramadi, 30 miles west of Fallujah, at least 10 explosions were heard early Monday, but no details were immediately available on their source nor whether there were any casualties.
Insurgents had shelled U.S. forces in the city on Sunday resulting in retaliatory artillery fire by American troops.
In the central Iraqi city of Samarra, insurgents attacked patrolling U.S. soldiers with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. One missed the troops and detonated near a group of children, killing a 9-year-old boy and injuring another child, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O’Brien said.
On Sunday, eight of Saddam’s 11 top lieutenants went on a hunger strike to demand visits in jail from the International Committee of the Red Cross, military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said.
The eight had resumed eating by Monday, he said. Saddam had not joined in the protest and remained in good health, Johnson said.