December 28, 2003

Up to 13 Die as Attacks Shatter Fragile Calm in Southern Iraq

By EDWARD WONG

KARBALA, Iraq, Dec. 27 — At least four soldiers from the occupying forces and at least nine Iraqis were killed Saturday in four highly organized suicide bombing attacks in this Shiite holy city 60 miles southwest of Baghdad. More than 100 soldiers and civilians were wounded. Most of the casualties were not American.


Agence France-Presse—Getty Images
Vehicles outside the city hall in Karbala, Iraq, were destroyed Saturday in attacks against the mayor's office, military bases and a police station.

The fatal strikes were the deadliest in a string of bold assaults against allied forces this holiday week, and they brought a burst of violence to what had been a relatively calm southern Iraq.

While more than 90 percent of all attacks on allied forces have occurred north and west of Karbala, in areas with a majority of Sunni Muslims and strong loyalties to Saddam Hussein, the latest attacks in this city sacred to Iraq's Shiite majority revived a pattern of bomb attacks in the south. A huge bomb in August killed an influential Shiite, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, and scores of others in Najaf, and another bombing this fall killed 19 Italian troops in Nasiriya.

The insurgents who mounted te coordinated attacks in Karbala on Saturday used a range of weapons against the military base of the Polish soldiers who are the lead occupying forces in the region, the local government building that includes the mayor's office and a base for Bulgarian soldiers in a corner of Ahil al-Beit University, as well as an American military post nearby.

In Baghdad, the American military command said 4 soldiers had been killed and 37 soldiers wounded in the attacks, including 5 Americans. Military officials gave no figure for the number of Iraqi civilians wounded.

A spokesman for the United States Army Command, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmett, said that all three attacks in Karbala had involved suicide car-bombs, and that the attackers had also used machine guns, rifles and grenades.

A Bulgarian soldier who was standing guard on a road to the university on Saturday evening said a water tanker had exploded after it drove past a police station outside the campus and rammed into the Bulgarian military base. About 500 Bulgarian soldiers are stationed in Karbala.

The explosion, between 11 a.m. and noon, appeared to have destroyed the entire base, witnesses said. At 8:30 p.m., several nervous Bulgarian soldiers stood guard by a truck blocking an entrance road to the university. One soldier said the Bulgarians would now abandon the campus. Soldiers at the post pleaded with a visitor for a satellite phone to call home.

Many of the wounded at the university were students, witnesses said. In the city's main hospital, Kazim Abdul-Hussein, who worked as a guard at an intermediate school on the campus, said there was a huge boom after the water tanker ran into the military base. Mr. Abdul-Hussein lay on a bed on the hospital's second floor with a chunk of flesh missing from his right arm and a dry rivulet of blood across his face.

His wife, who had just received nine stitches for a wound on her leg, lay on another bed. Four of their children were also wounded and lay wrapped in blankets on the floor and on the beds. Mr. Abdul-Hussein said the first floor of the school, where his family lived, was destroyed.

"We have nothing except for the clothes we are wearing," he said. "Everything is gone."

Yousif Hasnawi, a doctor at the hospital, said 13 people had died in the three attacks in Karbala, including eight policemen who had been guarding the local government building. The dead were being stored in the hospital's freezer. The doctor said about 120 people were wounded, 50 of them seriously.

Hussein Ganim, a member of an American-trained guard force, said two of his friends were among the policemen killed. He said he had rushed to the hospital and seen charred bodies strewn across the emergency room. He added that two Iraqi civilians might have died in the blast at the mayor's office, and that the explosion took place at about 1 p.m. and was caused by a rocket that was fired at the building.

"I don't know who they are, but these people definitely are not from Karbala," he said. "Who here would blow up the city?"

By Saturday evening, Polish soldiers had set up roadblocks leading to their base, several miles from the university, and were anxiously directing cars away. Residents of the city said the occupying forces had imposed a midnight curfew.

Ali Fadil, 17, said from a hospital bed that his home near the Polish base had been destroyed in the explosion around noon. He showed a visitor a thick bloodstained cloth wrapped around his upper right leg. He said that he had begun running toward his home when he heard the explosion, and that a Polish soldier in a guard tower at the base had shot him in the leg. "They yelled at me and I couldn't understand anything," he said.

Earlier on Saturday, Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, the chief of the Polish-led multinational force responsible for security around Karbala, told Polish television, according to The Associated Press: "It was a coordinated, massive attack planned for a big scale and intended to do much harm. Four car bombs were used, grenade launchers and guns. We have sent rapid reaction forces and 10 helicopters."

General Tyszkiewicz said the car bombers were shot dead before they reached the military bases.

From Warsaw, a Polish military spokesman identified the soldiers who had been killed as Bulgarians and one Thai, while the Bulgarian Defense Ministry identified 19 of the wounded soldiers as Bulgarian, Agence France-Presse said.

It also reported that the Karbala governor, Akram al-Yasseri, was wounded in the attacks, and that he had said from his hospital bed that "a car bomb or rocket was the cause of the explosions." Five members of Karbala's governing council were counted among the wounded.

A statement handed to reporters by aides to General Kimmett, the American spokesman in Baghdad, said some of the most seriously wounded soldiers had been taken by helicopter to the American Hospital in Baghdad, a former clinic for top Iraqi leaders under Mr. Hussein that lies inside the grounds of the Republican Palace, now headquarters for the American-led occupation forces.

The statement was terse, with an edge of anger. "Today in Karbala, evil individuals conducted an unprovoked attack against coalition forces and innocent Iraqis," it said. "These individuals have no honor and no respect for the Iraqi people. They commit these acts in an effort to further their own self-interest and to prevent the Iraqi people from taking their rightful place in the world of free nations."

Neela Banerjee and John F. Burns contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.


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