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Iraq Insurgent Attack Toll Mounts

Iraq's insurgency appeared unfazed by two U.S.-led military offensives, mounting separate attacks that killed at least 37 people — mostly security forces — and wounded scores of others Monday.

The largest one occurred in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. A suicide car bomber dressed as a policeman slammed into a large group of traffic police officers gathered for morning roll call, killing 15 and wounding more than 100 others, police and hospital officials said.

The U.S.-led Operations Spear and Dagger, which began over the weekend and are aimed at destroying militant networks near the Syrian border and north of Baghdad, appeared to be winding down. U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed about 60 insurgents and 100 captured so far, while one Marine has been killed and three others wounded.

In other developments:

  • A band of insurgents launched a bold assault on a Baghdad police station Monday, killing at least eight policemen and an 8-month-old baby, police said. At least 23 were wounded. The attack on the Baya police station in southwestern Baghdad began just before dawn and included two car suicide bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.
  • A roadside bomb Monday killed a U.S. soldier on patrol near Tal Afar, 95 miles east of the Syrian border, the military said. The soldier belonged to the 1st Corps Support Command and was not part of the two major U.S.-Iraqi offensives taking part in the western Anbar province.
  • Iraqi insurgents claimed in a Web posting Monday that they killed a foreign contractor working for a U.S. company along with six Iraqis in an ambush west of Baghdad. The militant group Ansar al-Sunnah Army said its fighters attacked a convoy leaving a base near the town of Ramadi, killing the men and capturing two other Iraqis. The claim could not immediately be confirmed.
  • Douglas Wood, 64, the Australian engineer held hostage in Iraq for nearly seven weeks arrived in his home country Monday and apologized for his televised plea for coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq. Wood, who lives in Alamo, Calif., told reporters at Melbourne's airport he supported the coalition forces' role in Iraq. "Frankly I'd like to apologize to both President Bush and Prime Minister (John) Howard for the things I said under duress," Wood said.
  • Syria's security at its border with Iraq remains basic, relying on border guards who lack night vision equipment needed to stop insurgents crossing to join the fight against U.S. forces in Iraq, a British defense official said Monday. Syrian authorities gave journalists a rare tour of border areas to tout improvements in security measures as U.S. forces on the other side battles against insurgents believed to have entered from Syria.

  • A suicide car bomber ripped through a convoy carrying a Kurdish town's security director Monday, killing him and three of his bodyguards, said Anwar Kokoyei, a senior official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party.

    The attacked happened in Halabja, the same town where Saddam Hussein and other former regime officials will face trial for their alleged roles in a 1998 poison gas attack that killed at least 5,000 people.

    Another suicide car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing five soldiers and wounding three Monday evening, army and police officers said.

    The rate of insurgent attacks has risen dramatically since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-led Cabinet on April 28. At least 1,189 people have been killed since then, according to an Associated Press count based on military, police and hospital reports.

    Sunni Arabs are believed to make up the core of Iraq's insurgency and many of them boycotted historic elections in January, leaving them politically sidelined and embittered by the rise of the Shiites and the Kurds — two communities that account for about 80 percent of the country's estimated 26 million people.

    The insurgency has especially targeted Iraqi security forces, because they are seen as collaborators of the U.S. and Shiite-led governments.

    Some extremists have also started threatening fellow Sunni Arabs, because some leaders of the minority Muslim sect have expressed a readiness to join the political process.

    On Monday, Sunni Arabs were expected to name their representatives to a committee that has until mid-August to draft Iraq's new constitution. The number of Sunni members took weeks to negotiate with the Shiite majority.

    At least one American has died since the new military campaigns — code-named Spear and Dagger — began Friday and Saturday, respectively, in Anbar province. About 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces are taking part in each offensive.

    Operations Spear and Dagger are aimed at destroying militant networks near the Syrian border and north of Baghdad, the military said. About 60 insurgents have been killed and 100 captured so far.

    Troops taking part in the new military campaigns - code-named Spear and Dagger - said they found numerous foreign passports and one round trip air ticket from Tripoli, Libya, to Damascus, Syria. They found two passports from Sudan, two from Saudi Arabia, two from Libya, two from Algeria and one from Tunisia.

    Intelligence officials believe Anbar province is a portal for extremist groups, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq, to smuggle in foreign fighters. Syria is under intense pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous 380-mile border with Iraq.

    Operation Spear appeared to be winding down and U.S. Marines reported finding a weapons cache in the town of Karabilah early Monday, including two dozen RPG launchers, heavy machine guns and equipment to make up to 25 bombs.

    The dusty town is about 200 miles west of Baghdad and near Qaim, a city on the Syrian border.

    Troops also found a large number of explosives in the building and conducted a controlled blast, leveling an entire block, according to an AP reporter in the town. Many residents had already left their homes for safer areas and portions of the town have been reduced to rubble.

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