Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Attacks on US forces in Baghdad continue

OCCUPIED IRAQ A bomb injured two US soldiers traveling in convoy through a tunnel in the center of Baghdad as inter-religious feuding flared up outside the capital

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

An Iraqi man crosses the street as US Army soldiers secure the area after a roadside bomb exploded yesterday in a tunnel in the heart of Baghdad.

PHOTO: AP

Iraq's ambush bombers struck in the center of Baghdad yesterday morning, rocking a US Army convoy with an echoing blast in a traffic tunnel, but inflicting only light casualties, a US officer at the scene reported.

In the southern city of Najaf, a small band of gunmen staged a midnight attack on the headquarters of a leading Shiite Muslim political organization, but no casualties were reported in the firefight, said a spokesman for the group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

The spokesman, who identified himself as Abu Ahmed, said four of six attackers were captured and admitted they were loyalists of the Baath Party of deposed president Saddam Hussein.

During years of Shiite suppression under Saddam's Baathist regime, the SCIRI group fueled opposition to the Baghdad government from exile. Since Saddam's fall last April, it has taken a prominent role in the postwar political transition inside Iraq.

The homemade bomb in Baghdad exploded as a three-Humvee convoy passed through a road tunnel under Tayeran Square, already teeming with Iraqis at 6:45am. The blast, whose concentrated sound reverberated through central Baghdad, lightly wounded two 1st Armored Division soldiers and damaged a Humvee, the division's Captain Tommy Leslie said afterward.

Local residents said US Army convoys had been repeatedly targeted in the tunnel.

"It's always the same," said traffic policeman Adnan Khadim, 43, assigned to the area. "They should stop using the tunnel."

The continuing resistance attacks on the US occupation army produced no new reported casualties Tuesday or early yesterday, as Washington prepared for a pivotal conference in Madrid today and tomorrow to win international aid to rebuild Iraq -- help that the Americans hope will eventually be accompanied by foreign troop reinforcements.

In Najaf, the SCIRI spokesman said guards returned fire after the main office in the city center came under attack around midnight Tuesday, and the fighting lasted about an hour. The situation in Najaf was reported calm later yesterday morning.

The alleged Baathist attack was a shift from the kind of violence troubling Iraq's majority Shiite community, whose newly resurgent political-religious organizations have been vying, sometimes in armed clashes, for power and control of mosques.

In the latest development in that inter-Shiite violence, Iraqi police backed by US coalition troops raided a mosque before dawn Tuesday in the holy city of Karbala, arresting dozens in a clampdown on Shiite Muslim militants.

The Karbala trouble began a week ago over ownership of a bus, but reflects a power struggle between armed followers of militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who demands an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq, and gunmen loyal to religious leaders who take a more moderate stand toward the Americans.

Al-Sadr's group occupied a mosque in the shrine city amid clashes that officials of the US-led coalition said left three Iraqis dead and 50 wounded.

With the endorsement of Karbala's senior clerics, Iraq's interim Governing Council decided to take action against the al-Sadr forces, said interim Interior Minister Nori al-Badran.

The raid went smoothly, he said.

"All the gunmen surrendered with their weapons. Twenty-one people were arrested. Another 20 guarding outside the mosque were arrested, too," he said.

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