Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Suicide blast comes on heels of US president's appeal

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

A suicide bomber killed five Iraqis and an American soldier at an entrance to the US Baghdad headquarters yesterday and officials said it looked like the work of an Islamic group linked to al-Qaeda.

The car bomb, which sent one victim's leg flying 200m, wounded 23 Iraqis, including three policemen, and two US soldiers at an entry checkpoint to the so-called Green Zone, a US military spokesman said.

Violence is blighting Iraq as Washington strives to win the friendship of its people before returning them their sovereignty on June 30. Trying to head off another threat to Iraqi goodwill, US President George W. Bush stepped in personally to assure them abuse by US soldiers of Iraqi prisoners would end.

A senior official of the US-led administration said the bomb attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-linked militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, blamed for a series of car bombs in Iraq.

"We may not have any verbal or physical evidence at this point, but it is certainly the calling card of a terrorist organization," the official said.

The bomb contained artillery shells, he said, a method the administration says the Jordanian-born militant has used in previous attacks, including on another entrance to the Zone.

It was the first major bomb blast in Baghdad since March 17, when a suicide car bombing devastated a hotel, killing seven.

A second bomb in Baghdad yesterday, a small roadside device typically used against US forces, wounded an Iraqi passerby but there were no casualties among foreign civilians whose convoy of three vehicles seemed to be the target.

Hours earlier, Bush appeared on two Arabic satellite television stations to tell an outraged Middle East that soldiers guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners would be punished.

"In a democracy everything is not perfect. Mistakes are made. But in a democracy as well, those mistakes will be investigated and people will be brought to justice," he told the US-funded Alhurra channel.

"Our citizens in America are appalled by what they saw, just like people in the Middle East are appalled," he told private, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya. Bush called the abuse "abhorrent."

He did not explicitly apologize for the scandal, which erupted after pictures of prisoners being sexually humiliated appeared last week, leaving the public apologies to top aides.

A week after pictures were published of grinning US soldiers abusing naked Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq's largest prison and notorious under Saddam for torture, the army revealed that 25 prisoners had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They included two Iraqis murdered by Americans, one death described as justifiable homicide, and 12 deaths by natural or undetermined causes. Ten were still being investigated.

The CIA said it was investigating the deaths of three prisoners interrogated by its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan but did not say if these were among the 25 reported by the army.

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