Car Bombs Kill Five U.S. Troops In Iraq

From Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

October 16, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Car bombs killed five U.S. troops in Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday, the latest in a string of such attacks at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Blasts also targeted five churches in the Iraqi capital.

The two car bombs went off Friday, the military said. One, carried out by a suicide bomber driving an explosive-laden vehicle, targeted a U.S. patrol near the town of Qaim, an insurgent hotspot near the border with Syria, killing four U.S. troops, according to Lt. Col. Chris Woodbridge, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The other blast went off in the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, killing a U.S. soldier assigned to Task Force Olympia, the military said.

U.S. commanders have warned that insurgents may increase violence during Ramadan -- just as there was a surge in attacks last year with the start of the month of fasting. In recent days, U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched sweeps around several cities in an attempt to suppress guerrillas ahead of Ramadan. Most Iraqis began observing the sunrise-to-sunset fast on Friday, though some Shiites began today.

The U.S. military loosened a cordon around the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallouja after several days of intense clashes with rebels there, residents said. The surge in violence in Fallouja came as negotiations with city leaders aimed a deal to re-establish government control broke down.

A vehicle bomb reported Friday by the U.S. military blasted near a police station in southwest Baghdad, killing 10 civilians -- including a family of four who were driving by at the time of the blast. Iraqi hospital officials said 14 people were wounded.

In Baghdad today, bombs rang out outside five churches in quick succession over an hour and half starting at 4:00 a.m., the Iraqi Interior Ministry said. There were no injuries, but all the churches had windows blown out, said ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman.

"It is a criminal act to make Iraq unstable and to create religious difficulties," Rev. Zaya Yousef of St. George's Church said. "But this will not happen because we all live together like brothers in this country through sadness and happiness."

Iraq's community of 750,000 Christians has grown increasingly anxious at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the ouster of Saddam Hussein last year. Hundreds have fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria.

In August, coordinated attacks hit four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens more in the first significant strike against Iraq's minority Christians since the U.S. invasion began last year.

In other Baghdad violence, a mortar round exploded in the garden of the Ibn al-Betar hospital, killing one person. Officials said the blast at the hospital could have been far worse -- The building was under renovation at the time and there were no patients there.

Another mortar round hit the parking lot of al-Mansour Hotel, where some foreign journalists and diplomats stay. There were no reports of casualties there, the Interior Ministry said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said the deadline for Shiite militiamen to turn in their weapons in the Baghdad district of Sadr City was extended to Sunday. Friday had been the deadline for militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr to exchange guns for cash under a deal to end weeks of fighting with U.S. troops there.

Once the handover is complete, the U.S. military will verify that no major weapons caches remain and Iraqi forces will assume responsibility for security in Sadr City. The Americans hope the deal will enable them to focus on the more dangerous Sunni Muslim insurgency.

In Fallouja, the center of the Sunni insurgency, residents said the Americans relaxed a cordon they threw up around the city after stepped up air and ground attacks this week against insurgents, including those loyal to terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

U.S. troops were allowing residents to leave the city through the northern exit and people were walking freely about the streets Saturday, residents said.

U.S. jets and artillery had pounded targets in the southern and eastern part of Fallouja around sundown Friday as residents were taking the traditional meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.

The attacks began Thursday after peace talks between the Iraqi officials and city leaders broke down over the government's demand that they hand over al-Zarqawi, believed responsible for suicide bombings and beheading foreign hostages.

Khaled al-Jumeili, an Islamic cleric who served as the city's top negotiator in the talks, was arrested as he left a mosque after Friday prayers in a village about 10 miles south of Fallouja, witnesses said. There was no confirmation from U.S. authorities.

Fallouja fell under control of radical clerics and their armed mujahedeen fighters after the Marines lifted their three-week siege of the city in April.

On Friday, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group with ties to some insurgents, called upon political parties to withdraw from the government to protest bloodshed in Fallouja, Samarra and other cities.

In a separate statement read Friday in Sunni mosques in Baghdad and elsewhere, Fallouja clerics threatened a civil disobedience campaign across the country if the Americans try to overrun the city.

The clerics said if civil disobedience were not enough to stop a U.S. assault, they would proclaim a jihad, or holy war, against all U.S. and multinational forces "as well as those collaborating with them."

They insisted that the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi was not in Fallouja, claiming his alleged presence "is a lie just like the weapons of mass destruction lie."

"Al-Zarqawi has become the pretext for flattening civilians houses and killing innocent civilians," the statement said.

Al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group claimed responsibility for Thursday's twin bombings inside Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone -- home to U.S. officials and the Iraqi leadership -- which killed six people, including three American civilians, and wounded 27 others, mostly Iraqis. A fourth American was missing and presumed dead.

Also Saturday, a member of the Turkoman Front political group was assassinated in northern Iraq while driving his children to school, police said. Gunmen opened fire on the car of politician Ghafour Abu Bakr, killing him and slightly injuring his two children, Col. Burhan Taha said. The four assailants then pushed the children out and stole the car, he said.