Violence as Iraq enters 4th year of war

BAGHDAD (AP) — Suspected insurgents marked the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq Monday with roadside bombings that killed at least eight policemen, and authorities reported finding 15 more bullet-riddled bodies, one of them a 13-year-old girl, dumped in the capital and in the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

A large explosion also rocked a coffee shop in northern Baghdad, killing at least three civilians and injuring 15, but the cause of the blast was not immediately known.

The violence took up where it left off Sunday when at least 35 people died.

One of the roadside bombings Monday, just a few hundred yards from an interior ministry lockup in central Baghdad, killed at least three Iraqi police commandos and a prisoner, police Lt. Col. Falah Mohammedawi said. Four commandos were injured in the midday attack.

A second roadside bomb in a farming area in the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad killed four policemen, police Capt. Muthana Khalid Ali reported from the area.

The 15 dumped bodies, apparently executed, were the latest gruesome discoveries tied to the underground sectarian war being conducted by Shiite and Sunni Muslims as they settle scores in the chaos that grips the capital.

Since the February 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, 887 Iraqis have been killed according to an Associated Press count.

Baghdadis voiced anger Monday when asked about their lives as the war entered its fourth year.

“Since (US-led troops) came into Iraq, we get nothing,” said Ali Zeidan. “Three years have passed by for the Iraqi people and they are still suffering psychologically … and economically.” Ibrahim Jaafari, Iraqi’s interim prime minister, said stifling terrorism and reviving the country’s economy are the main challenges his government faces in an editorial in Monday’s Washington Post.

Five Shiite pilgrims headed to Karbala were the victims of a drive-by shooting in an attack by assailants with automatic rifles in the town of Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad. All were injured, police said.

As millions of pilgrims gathered in Karbala Monday to complete 40 days of symbolic mourning for Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, the Baghdad International Airport was ordered closed through Tuesday “to avoid any violence during the [religious] commemoration,” said transportation ministry spokesman Ahmed Abdul-Wahab.

Authorities have closed the airport in the past citing the need for security during elections.

Jordanian authorities also closed their border with Iraq Sunday until further notice to “prevent whoever does not have valid travel documents from entering the country,” said Maj. Basheer Daaja, spokesman of the Public Security Department, adding there are many travellers without proper papers trying to get past the Karamah border post.

A car bomb targeting a police checkpoint near a hospital exploded in downtown Baqouba, killing a police officer and injuring another as well as two civilians, police said.

Baquoba is 60 kilometres northeast of Baghdad.

Gunmen appeared to hunt down specific individuals as well, killing an Iraqi oil official on his way to work in the northern town of Mosul and opening fire on a former Baghdad mayor as he left his house in the southern neighbourhood of Dora, causing serious injuries, police said. Assailants in a speeding car also shot and badly injured a city council member of Karradah, a downtown Baghdad district, and gunmen killed a grocery shop owner in the capital while he was at work, according to police.

Also in Mosul, which is 360 kilometres northwest of the capital, three separate attacks on police patrols killed one policeman and injured four officers and two civilians late Sunday.

Another Iraqi police officer with a joint American-Iraqi patrol was killed in Baghdad during fighting with insurgents in the neighbourhood of Amariyah, police said.

Two others, including a police woman dressed in civilian clothes on her way home, were seriously injured.

On the political front, Iraqi leaders still had not formed a government more than three months after landmark elections for the country’s first permanent post-invasion parliament, but they did announce an agreement on establishing a Security Council to deal with key matters while negotiations proceed.

The announcement was made Sunday after the fourth in a series of US-brokered all-party meetings on forming a new government.

“It was a successful meeting, and we have agreed on forming a National Security Council whose powers will not contradict the constitution,” Adnan Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab political leader, told the Associated Press.

The council, to be headed by President Jalal Talabani, was established as an interim measure as politicians struggle to agree on the makeup of a new government following the December 15 parliamentary elections.

Dulaimi said nine council seats would go to Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, while Kurds and Sunni Arabs each would control four seats and the secular bloc two.

Talabani, a Kurd, would head the group.

The exact powers of the council, if any, were not explained. But it appeared to have been formed to ensure that politicians from minority blocs would at least be consulted in advance on important government and security decisions.

The political discussions on forming a government began last week under pressure from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Dulaimi said the talks would not resume until Saturday because of Shiite and Kurdish holidays this week.

Nearly 1,500 US and Iraqi soldiers on Sunday sought to root out insurgents from farming villages an hour’s drive north of the capital. They have captured dozens of suspects in the air-assault operation that began Thursday.

The Iraqi Red Crescent started delivering food, water and first-aid kits to evacuated families in the area of the operation, which continued Monday. Members of the group had said they were previously prevented from delivering aid by US troops citing security concerns.

On Saturday, the US military released more than 350 detainees in Iraq based on recommendations made by a review committee consisting of US officers and Iraqis from the ministries of human rights, justice and interior, a statement said.

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