Iraq Car Bombing: Al-Qaeda Link?

Iraqis rush to the scene where a car bomb exploded in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 22, 2004. A car bomb exploded Saturday in front of the home of a senior Iraqi security official, killing at least five people and destroying several vehicles on an east Baghdad street, the U.S. military and Iraqi police said. AP

A suicide car bomber killed four people and slightly wounded a deputy interior minister on Saturday in the second such attack on a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad this week - both claimed by the same al Qaeda-linked group.

A statement by the group posted on the Internet said the bomber Saturday came from Syria, bolstering long-standing U.S. claims that foreign fighters are involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq.

Fighting flared anew in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and nearby Kufa between American soldiers and the Shiite militia of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with bursts of heavy mortar and machine gun fire heard about midnight. A live report on Al-Jazeera television from its correspondent in Najaf was punctuated by strong explosions near a downtown hotel.

Also Saturday, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed and three others from the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division were wounded in an attack on their vehicle south of Baghdad, and a Marine died in a non-hostile incident.

It said the soldiers' vehicle was "ambushed by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" in Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. The statement did not say when the attack occurred.

The military said the Marine, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, died Friday near Camp Fallujah, west of Baghdad, while "conducting security and stability operations."

  • The Washinton Post reported Saturday that detainees shown in some of the most infamous photos of abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison were posed as punishment or for the "entertainment" of their jailers. New accounts of mistreatment were told by some in the latest batch of prisoners to be released from Abu Ghraib Friday.

  • In Tunis, Tunisia, Arab leaders meeting at an annual summit Saturday were united in outrage over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, according to draft resolutions that also condemned terrorism and reiterated calls for Arab-Israeli peace.

  • Hundreds of anti-war protesters marched through the capital Saturday, calling for coalition troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and an end to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

  • In Baqouba, a town north of Baghdad, the president of Diyala University, Khosham Atta, survived an assassination attempt Saturday when gunmen shot at his car as he went to work, the university said. Atta was unhurt.

    Saturday's suicide blast outside the home of Abdul-Jabbar Youssef al-Sheikhli, the deputy interior minister in charge of security, hurled two cars onto the front lawn of his house. Police fired warning shots to disperse distraught bystanders who scuffled with them after the attack.

    Al-Sheikhli was injured in the forehead and right arm, said Hassan Hadi, a Health Ministry official.

    Bodyguards fired on the bomber's car as it approached, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. Three bodyguards and a woman were killed as well as the bomber, he said. Earlier, Iraqi authorities said four police died.

    Al-Sheikhli belongs to the Shiite Muslim Dawa party, which lost a prominent member in another fatal car bombing on Monday. The president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Dawa member Izzadine Saleem, was killed along with at least six other people near the headquarters of the U.S.-run coalition in the capital.

    The Monotheism and Jihad Group, which claimed responsibility for Saleem's death, said it carried out the attack Saturday as a warning to the United States and its allies.

    "They will not be safe from the hand of God's retaliation, then the mujahedeen's, and that they should be ready," said the statement, posted on an Islamic Web site.

    It said "martyr" Ahmed el-Shami Aby Abdel Rahman, from Qamishli, Syria, "drove a car bomb to take (al-Sheikhli) to hell."

    The group's leader is believed to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted by the United States for organizing al Qaeda operations in Iraq and suspected of beheading American civilian Nicholas Berg.

    In Najaf, south of Baghdad, fighting broke out Saturday between U.S. forces and al-Sadr's militia near the city's police directorate and the governor's office. At least 10 people were injured in the Saturday clashes, which erupted again about midnight, according to Radhi Kadhim, a nurse at al-Hakim Hospital.

    Residents of Najaf reached by telephone said they could hear the sounds of automatic weapons fire and explosives late Saturday coming from Najaf's twin city, Kufa, but efforts to reach anyone there were unsuccessful.

    On Friday, five people were killed and 29 injured in Kufa in clashes between al-Sadr's fighters and U.S. troops after the arrest of Mohammed al-Tabtabaei, an aide to the fiery cleric, a hospital employee said on condition of anonymity.

    There was no combat in Karbala, another holy city where intense battles have occurred. Residents said there were no combatants on the streets, and al-Sadr's office said militiamen and U.S. forces had agreed to withdraw from the city.

    Kimmitt said the coalition had repositioned some forces, but had not withdrawn. Early Friday, U.S. troops pulled out of a central mosque that they had occupied after ousting insurgents who had used it as a base.

    "The police chief from Karbala in fact came to us the other day and said he was encouraged to start bringing back in Iraqi police into the city of Karbala," Kimmitt said.

    Iraqi leaders in Karbala have been trying to negotiate an end to the fighting, though coalition officials have stood by their position that al-Sadr disband his militia and "face justice." The cleric, who launched an uprising against the coalition last month, is wanted in the murder of a rival moderate cleric last year.

    Kimmitt said efforts to end fighting in Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad, had broken down because coalition forces continue to be attacked. Troops had temporarily suspended patrols to give tribal leaders time to negotiate with the militia.

    Seven mortar rounds landed north of downtown Baghdad on Saturday, Kimmitt said. Two coalition soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were slightly injured.

    In another area of Baghdad, a rocket struck a two-story house near the former Ministry of Information. There were no reports of casualties.
    • Joel Roberts

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