- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

BAGHDAD — Gunmen ambushed a bus carrying unarmed Iraqis to work at a U.S. ammunition dump near Tikrit yesterday, killing 17 and raising the toll from three days of intensified and bloody terrorist attacks to at least 70 Iraqi dead and dozens wounded.

The attacks, focused in Baghdad and several cities to the north, appeared to be aimed at scaring off those who cooperate with the American military — whether police, national guardsmen, Kurdish militiamen or ordinary people just looking for a paycheck.

The violence comes just weeks after the United States began major offensives aimed at suppressing insurgents ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30.

Gunmen yesterday opened fire at the bus as it dropped off Iraqis employed by coalition forces at a weapons dump near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, said Capt. Bill Coppernoll, spokesman for the Tikrit-based U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Capt. Coppernoll said 17 persons died and 13 were wounded in the attack.

Survivors estimated that seven terrorists were involved, and said they emptied their clips into the bus before fleeing. The bodies of the victims were brought to a morgue too small to hold them all; some were left in the street.

About an hour later, a suicide car bomber drove into an Iraqi national guard checkpoint in Beiji, about 75 miles to the north, detonating his explosives-packed vehicle, Capt. Coppernoll said. Gunmen then opened fire on the position. Three guardsmen, including a company commander, were killed and 18 were wounded, Capt. Coppernoll said.

Also yesterday, insurgents ambushed a joint Iraqi-coalition patrol in Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, and attacked Iraqi national guardsmen patrolling near Samarra, north of Baghdad. Two Iraqis were killed and 10 were wounded.

The attacks seem to be an orchestrated campaign by Iraq’s Sunni-led insurgents to strike at any Iraqis who cooperate with Americans. On Friday, a police station was hit and 16 men were killed. On Saturday, suicide car bombs hit another police station, killing six, and a bus carrying Kurdish militiamen, killing seven.

The raids also appear designed to resupply the insurgents’ arsenal. Rebels in Friday’s attack looted the police armory, and yesterday, police said armed men stormed a station about 30 miles south of Fallujah and stole two police cars and a large cache of weapons.

That has not stopped the coalition from arming Iraqi forces. The U.S.-led Multinational Security Transition Command announced yesterday that Iraqi security forces had received deliveries in November of 5,400 AK-47s, almost 2,000 9mm Glock pistols, 78 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition — as well as body armor, night-vision goggles, armored personnel carriers and four Russian-designed battle tanks.

Six U.S. soldiers have been killed since Friday as well. That number includes two soldiers slain Saturday during a patrol in Mosul’s Palestine neighborhood, when they came under fire from insurgents shooting from two mosques and other buildings in the area, said spokeswoman Capt. Angela Bowman. The U.S. military and Iraqi forces later raided a mosque and detained three suspects.

The raid drew several masked men onto the street in protest.

“I swear by God, I swear by God, I swear by God, our retaliation will be severe. God witness what I say,” a masked man shouted before speeding away in a car.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi’s group, al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for several attacks Friday and Saturday. Another militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed — Arabic for the Mohammed Army — issued a statement saying its fighters were lying low for “a few days” but planned more attacks against U.S. forces.

The group’s statement also warned Iraqis against aiding coalition forces and said they would be attacked with similar fury to that directed against the U.S. military.

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