Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Suicide attacks in Iraq claim at least 13 lives

UPSURGE Four suicide car bombs in Kerbala claimed the lives of six coalition soldiers and at least seven Iraqis, including children playing near a military base

REUTERS , KERBALA

Guerrillas killed six coalition soldiers and at least seven Iraqis in southern Iraq on Saturday, lashing out at nations that answered US calls for troops to stabilize the country it invaded.

The attacks in Kerbala, a town holy to Shiite Muslims, also wounded 37 soldiers including five Americans, and at least 80 Iraqis, US military officials and local hospitals said.

The head of the multi-national force in the region, General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, said attackers used four suicide car bombs, mortars and machineguns against two foreign military bases and a town council building housing local police.

"This was a planned, coordinated and massed attack," the Polish PAP news agency quoted Tyszkiewicz as saying. "In all cases, the suicide drivers were shot dead before they could strike their targets."

Major Ralph Manos, an officer with the Polish-led multinational division based in the city, said six coalition soldiers were killed. A Polish Defense Ministry official said five Iraqi policemen also died and two Polish civilians were injured.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry said two of the dead soldiers were Thais posted to Kerbala. Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said four of its troops had been killed by one of the car bombs.

The attacks, part of a wave of guerrilla raids in Baghdad and deadly bombings to the north, dealt yet another blow to hopes the Dec. 13 capture of Iraqi former president Saddam Hussein would soon rein in violence in Iraq that Washington blames on Saddam loyalists and Muslim militants.

Iraqis said a fuel truck tried to smash into one of the bases before bursting into flame, killing several Iraqis.

"We were having lunch ...when an explosion shook the place. The kids playing outside were hurt, some were killed," said Ali Abdul Zahra, whose 15-year-old nephew and his nephew's friend were killed in the blast.

"The fuel truck didn't manage to penetrate the base, it exploded at the entrance."

"I collected the body of my uncle. I could not tell his head from his feet," said Hassan Shaker, one of many Iraqis who gathered at the main hospital.

The spokesman for the Polish-led force said 25 troops were wounded, five seriously, in the strike on the bases, around 110km southwest of Baghdad. US military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt put the number of wounded troops at 37.

People in the city blamed followers of the captured Iraqi leader, who US military officials believe have played a main role in attacks on occupying troops, Iraqis working with them and international agencies.

"Those who carried out this operation are followers of Saddam. We are 100 percent sure," said 35-year-old Sattar Abdel Ghali in downtown Kerbala.

The Kerbala area, home to several shrines holy to Shiite Muslims, is controlled by a multinational force including Bulgarians under Polish command. Washington is urging allied countries to contribute forces to help counter insurgency ahead of a planned handover of sovereignty to Iraqis in the summer.

About 15 Japanese military officials arrived in Kuwait on Saturday to lay the groundwork for Japan sending troops to Iraq. They are due to hold talks with members of the US-led coalition to prepare for the arrival of more than 150 personnel and transport planes in January.

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