Thu, 10 Mar 2005

From: AFP

30 Iraqis slain near Syria, truck bomb kills two

Sam Dagher and Ammar Karim, Agence France-Presse/Baghdad

Thirty people were found shot dead on the Iraq-Syrian border on Wednesday while a suicide truck bomb attack on Baghdad's agriculture ministry and a hotel killed two security guards and wounded 31.

The U.S. military meanwhile ordered a special probe into the shooting of the Italian intelligence agent who was killed at a checkpoint on Friday by U.S. soldiers as he whisked a freed hostage to Baghdad airport.

In the latest episode of gruesome violence, Iraqi security forces retrieved the bodies of at least 30 people, all shot in the head or chest, near the restive Iraqi-Syrian border town of Qaim.

"We have now 30 bodies and the search is ongoing to find the others," said General Jassim Dulaimi from the police force in Ramadi, the region's capital.

The dead were found in a village called Al-Rumana on the lush bank of the Euphrates River and one officer said they could be Iraqi soldiers.

A local police officer said one of the dead was identified as a policeman who had gone missing a week earlier. He said the victims were dressed in civilian clothes and had been dead for a week.

Murders are often carried out in the western province of Al- Anbar, the stronghold of the Islamists and Saddam Hussein loyalists waging an insurgency in Iraq.

Qaim itself, where insurgents are suspected of regularly crossing into Iraq from Syria, is the site of regular clashes between rebels and U.S. forces.

In Habaniyah, a town not far from Ramadi, a car bomb exploded near a U.S.-Iraqi checkpoint, according to police but there was no word on casualties or confirmation from the U.S. military. Despite a massive U.S.-led assault on the former rebel bastion of Fallujah in November, the Iraqi government has been unable to reassert control over Anbar province.

In Baghdad, rebels carried out a synchronized attack as they sought to sow turmoil ahead of the convening next week of the first freely-elected parliament in Iraq in half-a-century.

Gunmen, some in police uniforms, killed two security guards before a garbage truck barreled its way into a parking lot behind the agriculture ministry and the al-Sadeer hotel.

The blast gouged a six-foot deep (two-meter) and 12-foot wide crater in the parking lot and knocked out windows of the hotel, home to security guards and westerners involved in Iraq's rebuilding effort.

More than two dozen vehicles were twisted, burnt and thrown upside down, some piled into a small mount of metal and spewing white smoke. An annex to the ministry was charred and damaged.

Ambulance sirens screamed and dozens of police cordoned off the area as a thick curtain of black smoke hung over the street. Fire trucks and U.S. armored vehicles rushed to the scene.

In front of the hotel, Sabiha Kazar, 40, broke down in tears, worried for her wounded husband and two daughters, who had been whisked to hospital.

"Our home is practically destroyed," she said.

The attack began at 6:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. in Jakarta) when rocket-propelled grenade fire opened from a car on to a checkpoint sealing off the main road to the ministry and hotel.

"I saw a black BMW pull up to the checkpoint and shoot one guard. There was a change of guard at the time. The BMW killed the guard and cleared the way for the garbage truck to enter," said 23-year-old mechanic Haidar Hamid.

Within minutes, two men in police uniforms approached a second checkpoint further up the street and shot dead one security guard. As chaos ensued, the garbage truck raced through a third checkpoint into the parking lot.

The blast shot a thick black curtain of smoke over eastern Baghdad just off the main commercial boulevard Saddoun street, not far from Fardous square where Iraqis toppled a huge statue of Saddam when the capital fell to the Americans two years ago.

Local hospitals put the wounded at 31. The interior ministry confirmed two people were killed.

In other attacks, gunmen opened fire on a minibus of workers employed by a Kuwaiti company in the capital, killing one and wounding three, police said. A car bomb also exploded in the Baladiyat neighborhood, but caused no casualties.

A police captain and an interpreter working for the U.S. army were gunned down in northern Iraq, said security sources. In the relatively calm southern port city of Basra, a policeman was killed and three wounded in a bomb attack, according to police.

Amid the violence, the election-winning Shiite and Kurdish blocs met to hammer out a joint document stating the goals and vision of a coalition government.

"Things are moving forward, we will see a principal of understanding signed by the two blocs within a couple of days," Adnan Ali, an aide to the Shiite frontrunner for prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari.