Two Blasts Kill At Least 14 Iraqis

Suicide attackers detonated bomb-packed vehicles Saturday at police stations in two towns, killing at least 14 people, officials said. In Baghdad, a civilian cargo plane was forced to land with its wing ablaze, apparently hit by a shoulder-launched missile.

The plane, flown by the Belgium-based delivery company DHL, was trailing thick smoke and missing part of its wingtip as it made an emergency landing at Baghdad International Airport. A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the plane was struck by a SAM-7 surface-to-air missile, and the damage appeared consistent with effects of such an explosion. A photograph taken from the ground showed flames at the spot where the ailerons and flaps meet on the left wing's trailing edge.

Insurgents have used such shoulder-launched weapons to shoot down military helicopters in central Iraq. The military said it was still investigating the cause of the fire. In the past, planes have been targeted — but not hit — by rockets as they went in and out of Baghdad airport, a main hub for U.S. forces and humanitarian supplies, the military said.

The attacks on the police stations in Khan Bani Saad and nearby Baqouba — which occurred within a half hour of each other — came after U.S. intelligence reports warning of an upsurge in attacks near the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which comes to a close in a few days.

In Khan Bani Saad, a market town on the northeastern outskirts of Baghdad, 10 people were killed, including six policemen, three civilians and the vehicle's driver, according to Capt. Ryan McCormick of the 4th Infantry Division. Iraqi police said one of the dead was a 5-year-old girl. Ten people were wounded, McCormick said.

In Baqouba, about 12 miles to northeast of here, three policemen and the driver were killed. One policeman was missing, Lt. Wisam Ahmed said. Officials said at least 10 civilians were hurt.

In other developments::

  • An Iraqi police colonel in charge of protecting oil installations was assassinated Saturday evening in northern Iraq, part of what appeared to be an insurgent campaign against U.S.-backed security forces. Police Col. Abdul-Salam Qanbar was shot while heading to a mosque in Mosul, a police official said on condition of anonymity.
  • The New York Times says in its Saturday editions that Army planning for Iraq currently assumes keeping about 100,000 United States troops there through early 2006. The Times cites a senior Army officer, who tells it the plans reflect the concerns of some Army officials that stabilizing Iraq could be more difficult than originally thought. The officer, who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, warned that maintaining a force of that size in Iraq beyond then would cause the Army to "really start to feel the pain" from stresses on overtaxed active-duty, Reserve and National Guard troops.
  • Saturday's Times also says purging Iraq of the Baath Party, the backbone of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, has proved more difficult than many Iraqis had imagined. In some provinces where the party's roots were deep, high-ranking party members kept their government jobs because local officials said they were afraid to make changes. In other cases, American Army commanders have intervened to keep senior Baathists on the official payroll, reasoning that firing people only feeds public resentment, the Times reports.
  • A human rights group said Saturday that guerrillas battling the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq are committing war crimes by attacking civilians collaborating with the occupation authorities. International law, including the laws of war expressly forbid the targeting of civilians, said a statement released by New York-based Human Rights Watch.
  • At the U.N., France, Russia and Germany dashed the hopes of the U.S.-led coalition that they and the full Security Council would quickly endorse the coalition agreement to hand over power to an Iraqi transitional government in June. They said Friday the plan is just a first step, not a solution to the crisis there. The three countries, which opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, supported the idea of a conference that would bring together Iraqi groups, Iraq's neighbors, and international representatives to back the return of sovereignty.

    There have been six vehicle bombings in Iraq since Wednesday, mostly targeting Iraqis who support the coalition.

    "It is clear that the terrorists have targeted Iraqis, the very Iraqis who are trying to improve the security in Iraq and the lives of ordinary Iraqis," coalition spokesman Charles Heatly said.

    U.S. military officials said they were warned by intelligence reports to expect an upsurge in attacks, particularly in the province that includes Baqouba, toward the end of Ramadan. Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division, said U.S. intelligence officials fear that religious extremists may try to commit "good works" at the end of the holy month by attacking Americans.

    Khan Bani Saad and Baqouba are part of the so-called "Sunni Triangle" north and west of the capital that has seen fierce resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.

    The DHL plane had been headed from Baghdad to Bahrain, with three crewmembers on board, when it turned around to make an emergency landing at the Iraqi capital's international airport, said Xavier De Buck, a DHL spokesman in Brussels, Belgium.

    After the emergency landing, DHL canceled its next flight into Baghdad, De Buck said. The delivery company has been making two or three flights a day into Baghdad since June.

    The airport, which has been turned into a base for U.S. forces, has not been fully reopened to commercial flights, but civilian freight carriers operate there. The only commercial airline serving Baghdad, Royal Jordanian, said it would suspend flights for three days, but didn't give a reason. AirServ, a South African organization that flies mainly aid workers, said it would continue flights to Baghdad.

    In recent weeks, insurgents have shot down five U.S. helicopters using shoulder-fired missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. About 40 U.S. servicemen were killed and nearly two dozen injured.

    The car bombings occurred a day after guerrillas fired more than a dozen rockets from donkey carts at the Oil Ministry and two hotels used by foreign journalists and civilian defense contractors.

    One civilian contractor was wounded when the rockets exploded at the Palestine Hotel and at the nearby Sheraton. There were no casualties at the Oil Ministry, which was closed for the Muslim day of prayer.

    The attacks on some of the most heavily guarded buildings in the center of the capital appeared designed to demonstrate that the guerrillas retain the ability to strike at will despite the overwhelming presence of U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

    "They're trying to break our will. They're trying to seize the headlines ... but they're militarily insignificant," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military deputy director for operations, said of Friday's attacks.

    However, Kimmitt acknowledged the attacks point to "a very clever enemy who knows that we don't have the best intelligence in the world."