Iraq: Intimidation Tries Intensify

Part of the convoy of the Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan burns after a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq Saturday, July 17, 2004. A car bomb struck the Iraqi justice minister's convoy as it moved through western Baghdad on Saturday, though Al-Hassan escaped unhurt but at least four of his bodyguards were killed.
A suicide attacker blew up a car bomb Saturday as the Iraqi justice minister's convoy pulled away from the minister's home, leaving its target unscathed but killing five of his bodyguards in the latest attempt to kill a high-level government official.

A roadside bomb hit a U.S. convoy Saturday, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding a second, the U.S. military said.
The attack occurred near Beiji, about 90 miles south of the northern city of Mosul. The soldier was assigned to Task Force Olympia, which is based in Fort Lewis, Wash.

The bombing aimed at the justice minister, along with a series of attacks on Iraqi police and national guard Saturday, seemed a deliberate effort by insurgents to mark the anniversary of the coup that brought Saddam Hussein's political party to power in 1968.

A second suicide bomber targeted Iraqi National Guard headquarters in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 47 others, hospital officials said. The damage was nearly worse: Iraqi troops stopped the car at a checkpoint after becoming suspicious and shot at the driver, who set off the blast 15 yards from the building.

Prospective recruits were waiting to get into the headquarters, said Dr. Dawoud Jassim Taie, director of the Mahmudiyah Hospital. Six of the wounded were National Guard troops while the rest were prospective recruits, he said.

Gunmen also ambushed and killed an Iraqi police chief as he drove to work in his town south of Baghdad.

Insurgents have intensified attacks in recent days against members of the interim government and Iraqi security forces, whom they view as tools of U.S. forces. Militants killed the governor of Nineveh province on Wednesday and attacked a car Thursday belonging to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who was not in the vehicle.

In other developments:

  • U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte acknowledged Saturday that Iraq faced serious security problems, but he expressed hope the country could overcome them and hold its first democratic elections. "I think all the ingredients for success are there," he told reporters in his first press briefing since arriving in Iraq three weeks ago.
  • A saboteur attempting to plant a bomb Saturday under a natural gas pipeline set off the explosion early and killed himself, authorities said. The explosion in Riayd, about 30 miles southwest of Baghdad, did not damage the line, said Col. Sarhat Qader of the Iraqi police in Kirkuk.
  • A security officer who guards oil infrastructure in the north was kidnapped Saturday, police said. Farhat Abdullah was on his way back home to Kirkuk when he was snatched by men in two sedans near Rashad, about 40 miles north of Kirkuk.
  • Authorities found the corpse of Jordanian driver dumped alongside the Amman-Baghdad highway with his eyes gouged out, Iraqi police Lt. Col. Salah Mubarak said. The attack was another effort to intimidate truck drivers bringing goods into the country.
  • An Egyptian man held hostage by insurgents in Iraq will be freed Sunday, a representative of his employer told the pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera on Saturday.

    As of Friday, July 16, 886 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department. Of those, 654 died in hostile action.

    The attempted assassination of Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan occurred about 8:45 a.m., when a car bomb on the road near his house exploded as his convoy passed.

    The suicide attack gouged a crater two yards in diameter and a half yard deep in the pavement. Flames lapped the charred skeleton of one car, while a second burned nearby.

    A helicopter hovered over the scene and emergency workers loaded a limp body into the back of an ambulance. Among the dead was the minister's nephew.

    Al Qaeda-linked militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attack, describing al-Hassan as a "traitor ... in the apostate agent government."

    Al-Hassan's son, Haider, said he was furious at the attack.

    "Those criminals seek instability in this country, so they can destroy this country and kill innocent Iraqi civilians," he said.

    Shortly after the attack, insurgents set off another explosion targeting a police patrol near al-Hassan's house, badly injuring two police officers, said police Maj. Hashim Raed.

    The explosion was part of a wave of attacks against police Saturday.

    Militants also attacked and killed Lt. Col. Rahim Ali, the chief of police of the town of Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, as he headed to work Saturday morning, said Lt. Ali Obeid, a police officer in the town.

    In Hawijah, about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk, gunmen opened fire on a police station wounding two officers in a 30 minute gun battle, said police Col. Sarhat Qader.

    In western Bagdhad, a roadside bomb exploded near a police vehicle wounding four officers, police Lt. Alaa Adnan said.

    Suicide attacks, car bombs and shootings have shaken the country in the 15 months since the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein and have continued since the June 28 transfer of sovereignty from U.S. occupation officials to the interim Iraqi government.

    Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has warned that terrorists would step up their attacks and announced the creation of a new security agency to stop them.

    Saturday marked the 36th anniversary of the bloodless military coup that brought the Baath party to power in Iraq. Saddam became the second most powerful man in Iraq after the revolt, and took power 11 years later.

    Huge celebrations had been held during Saddam's time to commemorate the anniversary, but were swept aside after his ouster. However, supporters of his ousted regime have fought on, and authorities fear they have joined with Islamic militants to try to frustrate American efforts here.