Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iraq raids, bombings continue

ONGOING VIOLENCE At least seven `foreign fighters' were killed by US forces in a raid on a `terrorist safehouse,' while an Iraqi finance ministry official was killed in Baghdad

AFP , FALLUJAH

At least seven people were killed and 17 wounded in the first major US military strike in Iraq since the occupation ended, hospital sources said yesterday, and five others died in roadside blasts in the capital.

A senior finance ministry official was killed in one of the Baghdad attacks, while a soldier from the US-led multinational force was killed and two more were wounded in a blast targeting a convoy in northern Iraq.

A senior US military official said the overnight air strike on a suspected hideout of al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's network in the flashpoint city of Fallujah and a subsequent shootout left between 10 and 15 dead.

US-led military forces have carried out several air raids on suspected hideouts of Jordanian Islamist Zarqawi in Fallujah, 50km west of Baghdad.

But the attack on Wednesday night was the first since the interim Iraqi government became sovereign on June 28.

"Seven dead bodies were transported to the hospital and 17 wounded were admitted, including women and children," said an employee at the registration counter who asked to remain anonymous.

The toll was confirmed by Dr. Rafaa Hiad, the head of the hospital.

But US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for multinational operations in Iraq, estimated a higher toll.

"We believe 10 to 15 people were killed, our first inclination is that they would be foreign fighters," he told reporters. "We have strong intelligence to believe suicide bombers were among those killed."

Locals said a plane dropped a bomb on a house in southwest Fallujah at about midnight.

An exchange of fire followed between US Marines and militants inside the Sunni rebel bastion which is a hotbed of anti-American resistance.

Kimmitt said the US-led multinational forces in Iraq conducted a strike on a "known safe house" of the Zarqawi network.

The operation was "based on multiple confirmations of Iraqi and multinational intelligence," Kimmitt said in a statement.

The military used precision weapons in the attack, but Kimmitt declined to specify the sort of arsenal deployed.

In a sign of Washington's determination to catch the outlaw, who has been accused of numerous atrocities in Iraq, it boosted a reward for his capture on Wednesday to US$25 million from US$10 million.

The same amount was on offer for Saddam, who was captured in December, and remains up for grabs for al-Qaeda terror network chief Osama bin Laden.

Iraqi police said this week they were holding a man who resembled the Islamic fugitive but the US military moved swiftly to deny he was Zarqawi.

The multinational forces have blamed Zarqawi for at least 30 attacks in Iraq, including March 2 suicide bombings in the cities of Karbala and Baghdad that killed some 170 people, on the bloodiest day of the insurgency.

Zarqawi heads his own militant faction named Tawhid wal Jihad (Unification and Holy War) which has claimed responsibility for two huge car bombings in Iraq last month as well as the beheading of a South Korean hostage.

In Iraq's ongoing insurgency despite Monday's official end of the US-led occupation, three people died when a senior finance ministry official was targeted in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, hospital sources said.

Ihsan Karim, a financial controller at the ministry, was seriously wounded while his driver and one bodyguard were killed on the spot in the blast as they drove down a main road in the capital's western district of Yarmuk.

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