Sunday, March 23, 2008

Barrages Hit Green Zone, Gunmen Kill Seven

Barrages Hit Green Zone, Gunmen Kill Seven

By Paul Tait

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Baghdad - Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" came under heavy rocket or mortar attack on Sunday, and police said at least two people had been killed outside the government and diplomatic compound.

In a separate incident, gunmen in three cars opened fire on pedestrians in a religiously mixed southern Baghdad district, killing at least seven and wounding 16, police said.

The U.S.-protected Green Zone in central Baghdad area was often hit at the height of sectarian violence a year ago, but attacks have become rarer with improved security across Iraq.

In northern Mosul, a suicide truck bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounded 30, including civilians, in an attack on an Iraqi army base, the Interior Ministry said. U.S. commanders describe Mosul as al Qaeda's last urban stronghold in Iraq.

The U.S. military said it killed 12 insurgents in a raid on a house east of Baquba after local media reported an operation in the town of Balad Ruz, 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Baghdad.

"Six of the terrorists killed had shaved their bodies, which is consistent with final preparation for suicide operations," spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said.

Mosul and Baquba are the capitals of two of four northern provinces where offensives were launched this year against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda fighters who regrouped there after being driven out of strongholds around Baghdad and western Anbar.

While there was no immediate indication of who was responsible for Sunday's Green Zone attacks, the U.S. military has blamed past missile strikes on rogue elements of anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

Sadr last month renewed a seven-month-old ceasefire for his militia, which the U.S. military has credited for contributing to sharp falls in violence across Iraq.

However, there are fears the ceasefire may be unravelling after Mehdi Army fighters clashed with Iraqi and U.S. forces in the southern city of Kut and southern Baghdad last week.

The Iraq war last week moved into its sixth year, U.S. President George W. Bush marking the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein with an upbeat speech in which he said the United States was on track to victory.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the insurgency and sectarian violence between majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Muslims since the invasion, although attacks across Iraq have fallen 60 percent since last
June, U.S. commanders in Iraq say.

With the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq nearing 4,000, the war remains a major issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.

Barrage

The first barrage of about a dozen blasts aimed at the Green Zone started just before 6 a.m. (0300 GMT). Unusually, a second barrage of about eight more followed about four hours later.

Police sources said two people were killed and about 10 wounded by apparent misfires or randomly aimed Katyusha rockets, one in northeast Baghdad and one in central Bab-al-Sheikh.

U.S. embassy officials confirmed "indirect fire" attacks on the Green Zone, a term used to describe rocket or mortar fire.

"The assessment at this time is that it caused no deaths or major casualties," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said.

A large plume of thick black smoke could be seen rising from one part of the Green Zone, which houses many government ministries and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. embassy. Sirens could be heard warning people to take cover.

Two U.S. attack helicopters circled over an area in the Iraqi capital's northeast soon after the first attack on the 10 sq km (4 sq mile) Green Zone, located on the western bank of the Tigris River that cuts through Baghdad.

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