- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

BAGHDAD — Terrorists bombed two churches in Mosul yesterday, wounding three persons in a coordinated attack apparently aimed at stirring trouble among religious groups in the ethnically diverse northern city.

In Baghdad, U.S. soldiers arrested several people described as suspected senior “transnational terrorists” in a raid Monday night on a sports complex, the military said yesterday. It did not identify the suspects or their nationalities.

Mosul deputy provincial Gov. Khasro Gouran said one blast struck a church about 2:30 p.m. in the eastern Wihda neighborhood, wounding three persons. An hour later, gunmen stormed a church in western Mosul, ordering several people outside before bombing it, he said.

In August, four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were blown up in a coordinated series of car bombings, killing at least seven persons and wounding dozens more in the first significant strike against Iraq’s minority Christians since the U.S. invasion began last year.

A top Iraqi official yesterday accused the country’s neighbors of doing too little to stop foreigners from joining the brutal insurgency.

In a speech to the Iraqi National Council in Baghdad, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh didn’t single out any governments, but noted that Iraqi police had arrested a Syrian driving a car bomb packed with artillery shells and other explosives.

“There is evidence indicating that some groups in some neighboring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people and such a thing is not acceptable to us,” Mr. Saleh said. “We have reached a stage in which if we do not see a real response from those countries, then we are obliged to take a decisive stance.”

Iraqi leaders repeatedly have called on their neighbors — particularly Syria and Iran — to guard their borders more closely against infiltration. Those countries have expressed concern that instability in Iraq poses a threat to the entire region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. combat death toll neared 1,000 with the killing of an American soldier during patrol in Baghdad. As of 10 a.m. yesterday, the Pentagon Web site listed the number of combat deaths as 999; it was not clear whether the soldier was included.

The military also announced a Marine died in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad. The two deaths brought the number of U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to 1,278, according to an Associated Press tally.

Also, three Iraqi national guardsmen were killed in a roadside bomb attack Monday as they patrolled near Jebala, an Iraqi national guard official said.

Several attacks in recent days have resulted in more than 80 Iraqi deaths, causing concerns among Iraqi political parties over security for the Jan. 30 elections. The Bush administration has said it plans to stick to the election date despite the violence and a call for postponement by several leading Sunni Muslim groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his doubts during a Moscow meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi yesterday.

“Honestly speaking, I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize elections under the conditions of occupation by foreign forces,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mr. Putin as saying. “At the same time, I don’t understand how you alone can remedy the situation in the country and prevent its disintegration,” Mr. Putin said, addressing Mr. Allawi.

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