Thu, Dec 30, 2004 - Page 7 News List

At least 54 people killed in latest Iraq mayhem

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

With car bombs, assassinations, ambushes and raids on police stations, insurgents killed at least 54 people on Tuesday, including Iraqi policemen and a deputy governor, in the Iraqi capital and across the volatile Sunni Triangle, and a militant group claimed it executed eight Iraqi employees of an American security company.

The string of attacks -- including one in which 12 policemen's throats were slit in their station -- were the latest by the insurgency targeting Iraqis working with the American military or the US-backed government ahead of the Jan. 30 national elections.

Late on Tuesday, insurgents lured police to a house in west Baghdad with an anonymous tip about a rebel hideout, then set off explosives, killing at least 29 people and wounding 18, according to police. Seven policemen were among the dead.

The explosion erupted from inside the house as police were about to enter, an official in Ghazaliya police station said yesterday. Six houses collapsed in the blast and several people are believed to be still trapped underneath the rubble.

The police official said the attack was "evidently an ambush" and "massive amounts of explosives" were used.

Brigadier General Jeffery Hammond, assistant brigade commander in the 1st Cavalry Division that controls Baghdad, said attacks by insurgents are expected to escalate further in the run-up to the ballot.

"We anticipate that the enemy will [continue with] attacks, intimidation, assassinations and other messages designed to destroy life in Baghdad," Hammond said, adding that Iraqi security forces will bear the brunt of providing security for the elections and that US troops will back them up only if needed.

Iraqi leaders said the guerrillas -- who are mostly Sunni Muslims and have been blamed for attacks against Iraq's Shiites -- are bent on triggering ethnic strife before next month's poll.

"The terrorists intend to destroy Iraq's national unity," a statement issued by the Interim National Assembly said. "Their intentions are to harm this country which faces crucial challenges amid a very difficult period."

Shiite Muslims, who make up around 60 percent of Iraq's people, have been strong supporters of the elections, which they expect to reverse the longtime domination of Iraq's Sunni minority. The insurgency is believed to draw most of its support from Sunnis, who provided much of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party membership.

Earlier on Tuesday, gunmen attacked a police station near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, over-whelmed 12 Iraqi policemen there, slit their throats and then blew up the building, said Lieutenant Colonel Saad Hmoud, a local police official.

The deputy governor of the restive Anbar Province, Moayyad Hardan al-Issawi, was assassinated near Ramadi, east of Baghdad, police official Abdel Qader al-Kubeisy said.

Gunmen who shot him left a statement next to his body: "This is the fate of everyone who deals with the American troops." The statement was signed by the group Mujahidin al-Anbar, or "holy warriors of Anbar."

Such flagrant attacks appear designed to cause panic among Iraqi officials and security forces and to provoke a sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.

Militants released a videotape on Tuesday, saying they have executed eight and released two Iraqis who were employed by Sandi Group, a US security company, and had been held hostage since Dec. 13. The claim could not be independently verified.

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