Attacks in Iraq claim 75 lives


Iraqi people carry an injured person after a car bomb blast in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday.

AP Photo/Mohammed Hato
Published: Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 75 Iraqis were killed and scores injured Tuesday as insurgents carried out their deadliest offensive in weeks. Most of the victims died in five powerful bombings in Baghdad that threatened to heighten tensions as Iraqis struggled to recover from the worst sectarian bloodletting of the war.
Though politicians and clerics have been calling for calm, and a weekend curfew cooled off the fury in the streets, people across the capital remained anxious Tuesday over the possibility of new sectarian violence. Militiamen and private guards stood watch at mosques, and the U.S. ambassador declared that last week's killings had pushed Iraq "to the brink of civil war."
The Cabinet said Tuesday afternoon that 379 people had died and 458 had been injured in the violence since the bombing last Wednesday of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra and in the anti-Sunni reprisal killings that followed.
After meeting with the country's most powerful cleric, the Iraqi national security adviser warned that leaders would take "a few months" to form a new government, and that negotiations would proceed along a "rough road with a lot of political mines in our way."
The talks are still in the embryonic stages, and U.S. and Iraqi officials fear that bitter, prolonged negotiations will undermine faith in the politicians, reinforce sectarian divisions and strengthen the insurgency.
The Bush administration is gambling that the political process will help stabilize Iraq - and provide an exit for some of the 130,000 U.S. troops here -- by drawing in recalcitrant Sunni Arabs, who are leading the insurgency.
In Washington, President Bush declined to say whether the violence of the past week would affect the administration's hopes of reducing the U.S. troop presence. U.S. officials have been saying they would like to draw down to 100,000 or so troops by year's end.
"The people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice," the president said to reporters. "The choice is chaos or unity."
On Tuesday, blast after blast rocked the capital, raining down metal debris and sending lacerated victims to hospitals. After one car bomb exploded at noon in a Shiite district of downtown Baghdad, firefighters and witnesses struggled to pry two blackened bodies from a charred sedan. The wailing crowd lifted the bodies out, shouted "God is great!" and marched down the street bearing the corpses aloft.
Nuns from a nearby convent rushed toward the flaming wrecks clutching buckets of water.
Standing atop shards of glass on the sidewalk, Nour Sabah, 52, said," I'm going to sell my restaurant because I want to leave Iraq."
"They just want to destroy the lives of people. They don't want Iraqi people to live ordinary lives, " he said of the insurgents.
An Interior Ministry official said at least six people were killed and 18 injured in that bombing. Around the same time, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a gasoline station in a Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing at least 23 people and injuring 51. The deadliest attack took place in the evening, when a car bomb exploded by a marketplace in the northern neighborhood of Hurriyah, killing at least 25 and wounding at least 43.
In that same neighborhood, an explosion in the morning devastated a Sunni mosque, continuing the string of attacks on houses of worship. No one was in the building. In Tikrit, a bomb damaged the mosque where Saddam Hussein's father is buried. After the first attack, the Iraqi Islamic Party, a conservative Sunni political group, denounced the Shiite-led government, saying it was in "collusion with the criminals who have gone too far in destroying God's houses and igniting riots."
The tough language threatened to undo some of the recent unity among the leaders of the political groups. The sectarian clashes last week subsided only after Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders appeared together in televised meetings and prayer services. The government was also forced to impose an extraordinary daytime curfew over the capital and three provinces last weekend, and rolled tanks into some neighborhoods on Monday.
"I think the country came to the brink of civil war," the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a Monday interview on CNN.
"But Iraqis decided that they didn't want to go down that path and came together."
Khalilzad's statement was the most explicit acknowledgment so far by a Bush administration official of the degree to which sectarian strife had destabilized the country. It also contradicted declarations from U.S. generals last week that Iraq was nowhere near a civil war.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Iraqi Cabinet released its statistics on the number of people killed, saying that officials wanted to correct figures that appeared in an article in The Washington Post that said 1,300 people had died in five days. The Post article cited officials at the Baghdad morgue. But the top two directors of the morgue said on Tuesday morning that they had received only 246 bodies in the capital, where most of the slaughter took place. Of those, only about 70 had been claimed, they said.
The Iraqi national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said Tuesday that security forces had arrested 10 people in connection with last Wednesday's bombing of the golden-domed Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Four of those detained were shrine guards, and six were "terrorists," he said.
Rubaie, a conservative Shiite, made his comments in the southern city of Najaf after meeting there with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric.
"I expect we will go down a rough road with a lot of political mines in our way to forming a new government, and I think the formation will take a few months, so I ask our people to be patient," Rubaie said.
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The British military said Tuesday that two soldiers were killed when their patrol was ambushed in the southern city of Amara, and the U.S. military said a soldier was killed by small-arms fire west of Baghdad on Monday. At least 2,296 U.S. troops have died in the war.
In Baghdad, nine people were killed and 17 injured by one car bomb, The Associated Press reported. A roadside bomb aimed at a defense ministry adviser killed five soldiers and injured seven others. In Khalis, gunmen killed four policemen, Reuters reported.
Northeast of the capital, in Baquba, an imam, a policeman and an interpreter who worked for Americans were killed in separate incidents. South of the city, the police found nine bullet-riddled bodies along a stretch

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