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Widespread Violence Kills Dozens Across Iraq
By Edward Wong
The New York Times
Baghdad - The Marine Corps said today that 15 Iraqi civilians and a United States marine were killed on Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in the town of Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. At least 11 other Iraqis were killed or discovered dead today in various incidents, and military officials reported the deaths of two more Americans and a British soldier.
The deaths capped one of the deadliest three-day periods since the American invasion. In all, at least 155 Iraqis and 7 foreign soldiers have been killed in a spate of bombings and assaults that began Friday morning, when jihadists tried using two trucks packed with explosives to demolish a Baghdad hotel full of Western journalists.
That attack was followed by a pair of suicide bombings in two mosques in the northern Kurdish town of Khanaqin that left at least 80 dead and more than 100 wounded.
It is unclear what exactly provoked this series of attacks, but several factors could be stirring the anger of the Sunni-led insurgency. Last week, the American military announced that soldiers had discovered 169 malnourished, mostly Sunni Arab detainees in a secret police prison in Baghdad run by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry. The interior minister, Bayan Jabr, tried to play down the discovery, but admitted that seven of the detainees had been tortured.
In the northern city of Mosul, a senior police officer said a house raided on Saturday by the Iraqi police and American soldiers may have been a base for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The officer, Brig. Gen. Muhammad al-Wagaa, said the Iraqi police surrounded the house after interrogating an insurgent captured on Friday. A fierce gun battle erupted, he said, and the police called for assistance from the American military.
The insurgents then detonated a ready-to-use car bomb in the house, General Wagaa said. The blast killed 11 people inside, he said, and Iraqi and American forces captured four people. One of the dead insurgents, the general added, was a woman wearing an amulet around her neck that proclaimed her a martyr.
The general did not have any information about whether Mr. Zarqawi might have been in the house or linked to the people there. An American military spokesman said tonight that the Americans had no details related to Mr. Zarqawi.
In western Baghdad today, hundreds of people, most of them Sunni Arabs, protested the abuse and torture of detainees. Several Sunni political groups and the top United Nations human rights official have called for an international inquiry into incidents of torture at the Baghdad prison.
The recent attacks may have also been partly sparked by the approach of the Dec. 15 elections for a four-year Parliament, which is then expected to appoint a government. American commanders have warned that violence will be on the rise in the period leading up to the elections. Last January, the week of the elections for a transitional assembly was one of the bloodiest in the two-and-a-half-year-old war.
The most devastating attacks have been aimed at Shiites, who make up at least 60 percent of the population and, after years of domination by Saddam Hussein and his fellow Sunni Arabs, have taken the reins of power in the transitional government. The religious Shiite parties are expected to come away from the Dec. 15 elections with the most significant bloc in the Parliament.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, has called for restraint in the face of insurgent attacks on the Shiite populace, but it is unclear how long he will adhere to his policy of tolerance, given the rising anger among Shiites.
The bombing in Haditha on Saturday was aimed at a convoy of American marines and Iraqi soldiers, a Marine spokesman, Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, said. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on the convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the captain said.
Haditha sits on the Euphrates River in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar. Since last spring, marines have conducted offensive sweeps of a dozen or so towns along the river, in hopes of disrupting the smuggling of foreign fighters from the Syrian border into Iraq. In almost all the cases, the insurgents fled from the towns in advance of the Americans. The latest operation began on Nov. 5 in the town of Husayba, right up against the Syrian border, and met more resistance than usual.
South of Baghdad today, a car bomb exploded by a convoy carrying the mayor of Madaen, killing five civilians. The mayor was unharmed. Madaen is one of a belt of volatile towns ringing Baghdad where violence is particularly rampant between Shiites and Sunnis. Recently, Shiites have been moving into Madaen, while Sunnis have been leaving out of fear of reprisal.
In the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, the police discovered three bodies, all blindfolded, handcuffed and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said. A headless body was found off a highway south of Baghdad. A policeman was shot dead in the capital. A roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad killed a child and wounded five others.
The American military said a soldier was killed by small-arms fire while on patrol north of Baghdad, and a marine died of wounds received during a firefight on Saturday in the western town of Karma.
British officials said one of their soldiers was killed in a roadside bomb explosion near the southern city of Basra.
British soldiers in the south have come under increasing attack from Shiite fighters linked to Moktada al-Sadr , a radical Shiite cleric who ignited two rebellions against the American-led forces last year.
British officers say the Shiite guerillas also have ties to Iran, but it is unclear whether the Iranian government itself is sponsoring the attacks.