Car bomb onslaught kills at least 60 in Iraq
Near-simultaneous attacks in town of Balad follow deaths of 5 U.S. Marines

Updated: 5:11 p.m. ET Sept. 29, 2005

BAGHDAD - Three suicide attackers detonated car bombs nearly simultaneously in a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 60 people and wounding 70 others, a hospital official said. In the western town of Ramadi, the military said a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers.

The attacks about 6:45 p.m., hit a bank, a vegetable market and another location in downtown Balad, a mostly Shiite city 50 miles north of the capital, witnesses said.

Dr. Khaled al-Azawi of Balad Hospital said at least 60 people were killed, and 70 were wounded, including the town’s police chief, Col. Kadhim Abdul Razzaq, and four other policemen.

Earlier, the military said a roadside bomb killed five American soldiers Wednesday during combat in the western town of Ramadi. It was the deadliest single attack on U.S. troops since a roadside bomb killed 14 Marines near Haditha in western Iraq on Aug. 3.

The five dead Americans were assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force and were hit while “conducting combat operations” in the insurgent hotbed, a statement by the Marines said.

The deaths brought to 13 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq in the past four days. According to an Associated Press count, 1,934 U.S. troops have died since the war started in 2003.

President Bush had warned Wednesday that violence will increase in Iraq in the days before the Oct. 15 referendum on the country’s draft constitution.

Bush: Expect increased violence
“We can expect they’ll do everything in their power to try to stop the march of freedom,” Bush said of the insurgents. “And our troops are ready for it.”

In southern Iraq, British troops handed control of Camp Chindit Az-Zubayr, southwest of Basra, to the Iraqi army on Thursday, the Ministry of Defense said in London. About 100 British soldiers had been based at the camp, which was used for training Iraqi troops, and they have moved to bases elsewhere in southern Iraq, a ministry spokesman said, declining to be identified, in keeping with government policy.

“We have not handed over Basra to the Iraqis,” the spokesman said. “This is not part of a withdrawal from Iraq. It is just part of a handover of responsibilty for security to Iraqi forces, which had long been our intention.”

The move took place a week after riots broke out in the city — Iraq’s second-largest — after British troops on Sept. 19 stormed a jail where they believed two comrades had been taken after being arrested by Iraqi police. The raid sharply increased tensions between the British forces and Iraqis in the city.

British troops moved to a base 18 miles outside Basra to be able to intervene in a crisis.

It was the third southern city to have security handed over to Iraqi forces in the space of a month following the U.S. transfer of security control in Karbala and Najaf.

Raids on Sunni officials’ homes
Also on Thursday, U.S. forces raided the homes of two officials from a prominent Sunni Arab organization, arresting bodyguards and confiscating weapons, Sunni officials said.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, secretary-general of the Conference for Iraq’s People, said soldiers in tanks and Humvees, with two helicopters circling overhead, broke into his home in western Baghdad at 2:30 a.m., put him and his family in one room, and searched the house.

“It was as if they were attacking a castle, not the home of a normal person who advises Iraq’s interim government and has called for reconciliation and renounced sectarianism,” al-Dulaimi told a news conference after the raid.

The other raid took place at the Baghdad home of Harith al-Obeidi, another senior official in the organization, said Iraq’s largest Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party.

The U.S. military said it had conducted several raids in those areas of Baghdad on Thursday, but could not immediately identify the homes or Iraqis involved. The chief of Iraqi police in the district, Maj. Moussa Abdul-Karim said he heard reports of the raids after they took place but the U.S. military had not coordinated with the Iraqis.

‘Act of humiliation’
The Conference for Iraq’s People and the Iraqi Islamic Party are two leading political organizations representing Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, which has increasingly complained of abuse as U.S. and Iraqi forces pursue insurgents, the bulk of whom are Sunnis. The two groups are also campaigning to defeat a draft constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum.

Al-Dulaimi said the troops arrested four of his bodyguards and confiscated their licensed weapons. He said the Americans were acting on false tips that linked the men to the insurgency.

“This act of humiliation ... derails our efforts to encourage Sunnis to take part in the political process,” said al-Dulaimi, urging Washington to stop such actions.

The two organizations are urging Sunnis to vote “no” on the constitution, which their leaders believe will divide Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni areas, with the Sunni region having the least power and revenue.

The Iraqi Islamic Party condemned the two raids as “a savage act” and an “unjustifiable aggression” saying such treatment of “good Iraqis” could set back efforts to persuade citizens to join efforts to improve security in the country.

Al-Dulaimi is a prominent critic of the Shiite-led government. On Aug. 30, at a joint news conference with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, he called for dismissing the country’s Shiite interior minister, accusing his security forces of massacring Sunnis. Al-Dulaimi warned that such killings “will only lead to troubles” at a time when U.S. officials are encouraging Sunnis to accept the draft constitution.

His call came several days after 36 Sunnis were found shot to death in a dry riverbed near the Iranian border after they were kidnapped in Baghdad.

Gunmen wreak havoc
In two attacks, gunmen opened fire on a Shiite bakery in the Dora neighborhood, killing three civilians, and on a minibus carrying government cleaners to work, killing two and wounding seven, police said. Elsewhere in the capital, two civilians and four police officers were killed in drive-by shootings, and a 12-year-old living in a homeless shelter died when a mortar exploded nearby, police said.

North of Baghdad, three members of the Al-Khalis city council were killed by gunmen on their way home from a meeting, and an Iraqi woman was killed and three other civilians were wounded by five mortar rounds fired in Samara city, police said.

On Wednesday, in a suicide bombing in northwestern Iraq, a woman disguised in a man’s robes and headdress slipped into a line of army recruits and detonated explosives strapped to her body, killing at least six recruits and wounding 35. It was the first known suicide attack by a woman in Iraq’s insurgency.

Iraq’s most notorious insurgent group, al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by a “blessed sister.” The bombing came a day after U.S. and Iraqi officials announced their forces killed the group’s No. 2, Abdullah Abu Azzam, in a weekend raid.

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