By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN and TERENCE NEILAN
The New York Times
June 25, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 25 — A second day of clashes erupted in the Shiite stronghold of Falluja today and a roadside bomb in Baghdad killed an Iraqi policeman and wounded another, witnesses said.
American tanks and armored vehicles on the edges of Falluja fired in several directions, while armed men in an eastern suburb returned fire, witnesses told The Associated Press. Seven people have died in two days of exchanges there, hospital officials said, the agency reported.
The new violence followed a day that saw fighting raging in five cities across Iraq as insurgents unleashed a surge of apparently coordinated attacks that killed at least 105 people and wounded hundreds more.
Meanwhile, Iraq's interim vice president warned that a drastic deterioration in security could lead to emergency laws or martial law, which could put the new government scheduled to take over next Wednesday at odds with the United States.
"Announcing emergency laws or martial law depends on the nature of the situation," the interim vice president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite and member of the Islamic Dawa Party, told The A.P. in an interview on Thursday. "In normal situations, there is clearly no need for that" he said. "But in cases of excess challenges, emergency laws have their place."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was reported today as arguing against martial law. "It would make our task more complex," a German newspaper quoted him as saying, according to a Reuters report.
A United Nations Security Council resolution approved this month gives the United States a primary security role in Iraq even after the transfer of sovereignty. Washington has made it clear that it feels martial law is undesirable.
In Basra, southern Iraq, eight British servicemen detained for straying into Iran's territorial waters have returned to a military base in southern Iraq, ending their four-day ordeal.
On Thursday plumes of smoke boiled up from the streets of Falluja, Ramadi, Baquba, Mosul and Baghdad as masked insurgents battled American and Iraqi security forces in what several officials said could be the opening salvo in a violent push to derail the June 30 transfer of sovereignty.
"We were expecting such an escalation, and we will witness more in the next few weeks," said Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, whom terrorists have threatened to assassinate. "We will deal with it and crush it."
The heaviest carnage on Thursday was in Mosul, in northern Iraq, where a battery of car bombs leveled two police stations and ripped into a police academy and a hospital, killing at least 62 people, including an American soldier.
In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, black-clad insurgents flooded into the streets after taking over police stations and killing two American soldiers. The insurgents, thought to be an alliance of Shiite and Sunni fighters, proclaimed their loyalty to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the suspected mastermind of dozens of suicide attacks and two recent beheadings.
American military officials said it was not clear what role Mr. Zarqawi might have played in Thursday's mayhem. The car bombs in Mosul were most likely Mr. Zarqawi's handiwork, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for occupation forces.
"Whether the other attacks were orchestrated by Zarqawi or one of his proxies, we're not yet sure," the general said. "But we can say there was some level of coordination."
Mr. Zarqawi, a 37-year-old Jordanian who has shifted across deserts and mountains eluding the authorities for several years, has become enemy No. 1 for the occupation authorities in Iraq. American officials said they believed that he was now somewhere in Iraq, planning more attacks, though they concede they are no closer to finding him.
As the days edge up to June 30, the air is thick with tension. In Baghdad, American troops have positioned Bradley fighting vehicles at key intersections with their cannons pointing into traffic. In Mosul, a curfew has been called. Across the country, Western security consultants are warning foreign workers not to set foot outside their compounds and to brace themselves for a major offensive.
At the same time, the insurgency's tactics seem to be getting bolder. On Thursday morning, a man dressed in a crisply ironed police uniform walked up to a checkpoint in the Rashid neighborhood of Baghdad carrying a black Samsonite briefcase and blew himself up. Four people were killed, including a farmer driving to market in a pickup truck full of eggplants.
"The bomb was packed with ball bearings and meant to kill a lot of people," said Col. Steve Lanza of the Army. "This could have been a lot worse."
Two American soldiers were wounded in the attack, which littered the Rashid road with the grimly familiar mix of sparkling glass, chunks of flesh, scorched car parts and pools of blood and motor oil.
In Falluja, a flash point of anti-occupation violence, fighting erupted at dawn. American helicopters fired missiles into several houses, and armored personnel carriers and several dozen soldiers stormed into the city, which had been off limits to American troops for the last seven weeks after a truce was declared.
By midafternoon, another uneasy truce was struck, with a message blared from mosque minarets for insurgents to put down their weapons and go home. Jasim Muhammad Saleh, a former Iraqi Army general in Falluja, said, "The big people of the city — the sheiks, the tribes, the police and the mayor — met with Americans to stop their fire, and the Americans agreed to withdraw to their base."
During the Falluja fighting, insurgents hit a Cobra attack helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, forcing the chopper down, though none of crew were hurt, the American military said. Falluja officials estimated that 10 people had been killed in the fighting, which American commanders said had been started by insurgents.
American warplanes have bombed Falluja twice in the last week in strikes aimed at Mr. Zarqawi's network, which is thought to operate several safe houses in the city. American officials have said the airstrikes killed more than 40 foreign fighters.
In Ramadi, gunmen pounded a police station with rocket-propelled grenades, destroying the building. At least eight people were killed, American military officials said.
In Baquba, about 150 insurgents seized two police stations and began storing weapons in buildings around a stadium downtown in preparation for another strike. United States military officials said American troops had killed 23 insurgents.
A statement quoted Thursday by an Islamist Web site said Mr. Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad movement was responsible for the Baquba attacks.
If true, the attacks marked a shift, or at least an expansion, of Mr. Zarqawi's tactics, from suicide bombings to more classic guerrilla warfare.
In an intercepted letter that American officials say Mr. Zarqawi wrote to the leadership of Al Qaeda sometime this winter, he took responsibility for 25 suicide attacks and added: "There will be more in the future, God willing. We did not want to publicly claim these operations until we become more powerful and were ready for the consequences."
Mr. Zarqawi is steeped in Islamic militant traditions. In his teens, he fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, where it is thought he met Osama bin Laden.
His real name is Ahmed Fadil al-Khalaylah, but he created a nom de guerre from the Jordanian town of Zarqa, where he was born.
In the early 1990's, he returned to Jordan, where he was accused of conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and trying to blow up a tourist hotel in Amman.
In 1999, Mr. Zarqawi fled back to Afghanistan. Intelligence officials said Al Qaeda's leaders placed him in charge of a training camp, where he experimented with chemical weapons. Until recently, he was known as the "one-legged terrorist" because American intelligence indicated he was wounded in a missile attack on Afghanistan and received medical treatment in 2002 in Baghdad, where he was fitted with an artificial leg.
American officials said he had also spent time in Iran and in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, working with Ansar al-Islam, a militant group that Prime Minister Allawi blamed Thursday for the suicide attacks in Mosul.
Mr. Zarqawi and his followers have taken responsibility for the beheadings of Nicholas Berg, the American contractor killed in May, and Kim Sun Il, the South Korean hostage decapitated this week.
Intelligence officials say it is not clear if Mr. Zarqawi is an associate or a rival of Mr. bin Laden. Mr. Zarqawi has organized several attacks on Shiite Muslims, which is thought to go against the grain of Mr. bin Laden's attempts to unify the Muslim world against the West.
Still, Mr. Zarqawi remains an inspiration for the resistance in Iraq.
"His operations may have inspired other groups to come over to his organization," General Kimmitt said. "Clearly Zarqawi has tried to expand his network. Success breeds success."
Edward Wong contributed to this report from Baquba, Fooad Al Sheikhly from Baghdad and Terence Neilan from New York.