US Marine jets yesterday rendered unusable two bridges across the Euphrates River near the Syrian border to prevent insurgents from using them to move foreign fighters and munitions toward Baghdad and other major cities, the US command said.
The attacks occurred after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Iraq had become an even greater terrorist center than Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Attacks attributed to al-Qaeda's wing in Iraq have stepped up in the Baghdad area and western Iraq.
A Marine statement said F/A-18 jets dropped bombs shortly after midnight on two light bridges near Karabilah about 300km west of Baghdad.
"The purpose of the strike was to prevent al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists from using the structures for vehicular traffic to conduct attacks," the US statement said. "The munitions used in the strike were designed to crater the bridges, rendering them inoperable but not destroying them."
Karabilah is one of a cluster of towns near the Syrian border, a major infiltration route for foreign fighters heading for Baghdad and other major cities. Iraqi officials say al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has taken over parts of the area after local residents fled fighting between tribes supporting and opposing the insurgents.
In an interview on Monday with the BBC, Annan said many young Muslims feel angry and that situation has been exacerbated by what is happening in Iraq.
"They feel victimized in their own society; they feel victimized in the West. And they feel there's profiling against them," he said. "And the Iraqi situation has not helped matters."
Annan added: "One used to be worried about Afghanistan being the center of terrorist activities. My sense is that Iraq has become a major problem and in fact is worse than Afghanistan."
In statements posted on Islamic Web sites, al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for two attacks on Monday -- a roadside bombing that killed two British soldiers west of Basra and a daring daylight assault against the Interior Ministry in Baghdad in which two policemen died.
Also on Monday, US Marines said that al-Qaeda in Iraq launched multiple attacks the day before against US and Iraqi targets in Hit, 135km west of Baghdad.
Twelve people -- including 11 civilians, an Iraqi soldier and three suicide bombers -- died in the Hit attacks.
Elsewhere, Iraqi officials said that al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters had taken control of large areas of a strategic city on the Syrian border after weeks of fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the insurgents and one that opposes them.
The officials said that much of Qaim, 320km west of Baghdad, had been abandoned after weeks of tribal fighting.
US Marines operate around Qaim but have privately complained they don't have enough US or Iraqi forces to secure the area properly.
The attacks in the Hit area began on Sunday morning when two suicide car bombs exploded at security barricades on the northwest side of town, a Marine statement said.
Shortly afterward, a vehicle car bomb exploded on the Hit bridge across the Euphrates River, rendering it impassable, the Marines said.
The Marine statement said three insurgents and one Iraqi soldier died in the Sunday attacks. The government in Baghdad said eight civilians also died.
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