Saturday, January 22, 2005

At Least 16 Iraqis Are Killed in Car Bomb Attacks as Violence Surges

The New York Times
January 22, 2005
At Least 16 Iraqis Are Killed in Car Bomb Attacks as Violence Surges

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 21 - At least 16 Iraqis were killed and dozens were wounded Friday in separate car bomb attacks outside a mosque in Baghdad and near a wedding party south of the capital, according to Iraqi government and hospital officials.

With just over a week before national elections on Jan. 30, the wave of violence that American and Iraqi officials had predicted appeared to be gaining momentum as insurgents continued their campaign of car bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings.

The latest attacks, on a mosque in Baghdad's southern Rayi neighborhood and a wedding party convoy in Yusufiya, were both on Shiite communities, who have often been targets of Sunni Arab insurgents.

In the mosque attack, at least 14 people were killed and 40 were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside the walls of the Shuhada al-Ataf mosque just after morning prayers on the second day of the Id al-Adha holiday.

The mosque did not sustain major structural damage. But during the attack, the road outside was filled with neighbors celebrating the holiday. Many of the dead were said to be children who had been playing in the area.

"After the prayer was finished, we opened the streets. That's when the car sped in and exploded," said Sabar Latif, 37, the mosque's caretaker. "Thank God that the prayer was already over. The explosion was shocking."

Residents helped carry bodies away from the mosque, loading them into police cars and private vehicles to be taken to Yarmouk Hospital. Some remains of victims were found on the roof of a school next door.

One resident, Muslim Ashour, a 23-year-old laborer, said that before the attack, people in the neighborhood had received threatening letters telling them not to vote.

"Even if there remain only 10 people in this area, we will not retreat from giving our votes," he said, struggling to hold back tears.

South of Baghdad, in Yusufiya, at least two people were killed and 25 wounded when a car bomb exploded near a group of cars carrying people who were celebrating a wedding, according to the Iraqi health ministry. The death toll was expected to rise from the attack, on what The Associated Press said was a Shiite wedding.

Attempts to kidnap foreigners have surged this month, after a drop in November. The kidnappings are often the work of criminals seeking ransom or of insurgent groups that sometimes execute their victims if they believe they work for foreign countries or the Iraqi security forces or government.

Eight Chinese workers were kidnapped this week, and on Friday, insurgents who have threatened to kill them said they would be treated "mercifully" if China banned all its citizens from entering Iraq, according to a video obtained by Reuters.

The Chinese Embassy issued a televised statement that stressed that the men were workers and called for their release.

A Brazilian worker and a French journalist who were kidnapped are still missing.

A videotape posted on the Internet by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group showed the beheading of two Iraqis who were said to work at an American base, according to a report by Reuters.

The agency also reported that an Iraqi soldier was beheaded in broad daylight in the Sunni-dominated town of Ramadi, and that his body was left in the street with a note warning other Iraqis to quit the security forces.

In Iraqi cities and towns tense with violence, newly minted Iraqi police and security forces are expected to provide the most visible security measures on the day of the elections, when many voters will have to brave the threat of attacks by insurgents to go to the polls.

Iraqis living abroad will also be voting and registration is growing, despite being lower than predicted. The International Organization for Migration said in a statement on Friday that so far, 93,847 Iraqis living abroad have registered in 14 countries to cast a ballot in Iraq's elections for national assembly.

The American military has continued to reinforce troop strength and conduct raids in many cities in the country, detaining dozens of suspected insurgents, especially in the northern city of Mosul.

It said in a statement on Friday that in one of its latest raids there, it had detained one person after a base was fired on and cordoned off an uninhabited building where a search later uncovered military intelligence documents.

Since Jan. 5, Iraqi security forces and American troops have detained 199 people and confiscated weapons and munitions, the statement said.

An American First Infantry Division soldier was killed and another wounded in an operation north of Baghdad to kill or capture known insurgents, a statement from the division said.

In other violence, an Iraqi was killed and 15 people were wounded - nine of them British soldiers - when a car bomb detonated Thursday near a logistics base near the southern city of Basra just as a British military convoy passed by, a British military statement said Friday.

Iraqi insurgents opened fire on an Italian military helicopter as it was patrolling southern Iraq on Friday, killing a soldier, a defense official said in Rome, according to a report by Reuters.

Zaineb Obeid contributed reporting for this article.