Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Car bomb south of Baghdad kills about 50

REUTERS , ISKANDARIYA, IRAQ

A US soldier removes barbed wire from a street in central Baghdad yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A car bomb ripped through a police station south of Baghdad yesterday killing about 50 people, in the latest attack on Iraqis seen as collaborators with US occupation forces.

The bombing came after US officials said an Islamic militant with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was plotting to ignite a civil war in Iraq to undermine efforts to hand over power to Iraqis.

A reporter said he had counted at least 20 bodies outside a hospital in the small town of Iskandariya, 40km south of Baghdad. But the director of the local hospital said the explosion killed around 50 people.

"There are around 50 martyrs, 30 of whom have been identified, and dozens wounded," Dr. Tahsim Ahmad said at Iskandariya hospital, near the site of the attack.

The hospital's director, Razak Jannabi, said: "Thirty dead have been brought here, I believe that number is rising. I believe it's at 49."

Earlier yesterday, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the house of Amer Suleiman, chief of the al-Duleimi tribe in the area and head of the local US-appointed authority in the restive town of Ramadi, 110km west of the capital, wounding four bodyguards.

The attacks followed a pattern of targeting Iraqis seen as collaborators with the US occupation. Twin suicide bombings in northern Iraq against two Kurdish parties allied with the US killed more than 100 people on Feb. 1.

Ramadi and surrounding areas, at the heart of the so-called Sunni triangle where resentment of the US is strongest, have seen scores of attacks on US forces.

US troops said on Monday they had seized a computer disc containing a letter from Abu Musab Zarqawi, who Washington links to Ansar al-Islam, outlining plans to destabilize Iraq.

The US says the group, which operates in northern Iraq, is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

"There is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come into this country and spark civil war, breed sectarian violence and try to expose fissures in the society," said Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the top US military spokesman in Iraq.

Dan Senor, chief spokesman for Iraq's US governor, Paul Bremer, said the 17-page letter proposed attacks on shrines and leaders of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, whom Arab Sunnis and Kurds fear could dominate a future government.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the letter showed al-Qaeda was under pressure but had not given up.

"With respect to the letter itself, it's very revealing. They describe the weaknesses they have in their efforts to undercut the coalition's effort," Powell said.

Iraq's US occupiers have long said they suspect al-Qaeda has played a role in the insurgency against US troops and particularly in attacks on civilian targets in Iraq.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke to Security Council members about the electoral team he sent to Baghdad on Saturday to see whether elections could be held quickly, as Shiites want, or recommend alternatives for selecting Iraqi leaders before the US relinquishes power on June 30.

"I am concerned that there is no consensus yet on the best way to handle the transition," Annan said, according to his speaking notes. "Many Iraqis have been calling for elections before June 30. Others disagree and prefer other options for choosing the members of Iraq transitional institutions."

He told reporters the team, led by veteran UN official Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, had met members of the coalition and a variety of Iraqis.

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