- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomber killed four persons and slightly wounded a deputy interior minister yesterday in the second such attack on a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad in a week — both claimed by the same al Qaeda-linked group.

A statement by the group posted on the Internet said the bomber yesterday came from Syria, bolstering long-standing U.S. claims that foreign fighters are involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq.

Fighting flared anew in the Shi’ite city of Najaf and nearby Kufa between American soldiers and the Shi’ite militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with bursts of heavy mortar and machine-gun fire heard about midnight. A live report on Al Jazeera television from its correspondent in Najaf was punctuated by strong explosions near a downtown hotel.

Yesterday’s suicide blast outside the home of Abdul-Jabbar Youssef al-Sheikhli, the deputy interior minister in charge of security, hurled two cars onto the front lawn of his house. Police fired warning shots to disperse distraught bystanders who scuffled with them after the attack.

Mr. al-Sheikhli was injured in the forehead and right arm, said Hassan Hadi, a Health Ministry official.

Bodyguards fired on the bomber’s car as it approached, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. Three bodyguards and a woman were killed as well as the bomber, he said. Earlier, Iraqi authorities said four police died.

Mr. al-Sheikhli belongs to the Shi’ite Muslim Dawa party, which lost a prominent member in another fatal car bombing on Monday. The president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Dawa member Izzadine Saleem, was killed along with at least six others near the headquarters of the U.S.-run coalition in the capital.

The Monotheism and Jihad Group, which claimed responsibility for Mr. Saleem’s death, said it carried out the attack yesterday as a warning to the United States and its allies.

“They will not be safe from the hand of God’s retaliation, then the mujahedeen’s, and that they should be ready,” said the statement, posted on an Islamic Web site.

It said “martyr” Ahmed el-Shami Aby Abdel Rahman, from Qamishli, Syria, “drove a car bomb to take [Mr. al-Sheikhli] to hell.”

The group’s leader is believed to be Abu Musaab Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted by the United States for organizing al Qaeda operations in Iraq and suspected of beheading American civilian Nicholas Berg.

In Najaf, south of Baghdad, fighting broke out yesterday between U.S. forces and Sheik al-Sadr’s militia near the city’s police directorate and the governor’s office. At least 10 persons were injured, according to a nurse at al-Hakim Hospital.

Residents of Najaf reached by telephone said they could hear the sounds of automatic weapons fire and explosives late yesterday coming from Najaf’s twin city, Kufa.

On Friday, five persons were killed and 29 injured in Kufa in clashes between Sheik al-Sadr’s fighters and U.S. troops after the arrest of Mohammed al-Tabtabaei, an aide to the fiery cleric, a hospital employee said.

There was no combat in Karbala, another city where intense battles have occurred. Residents said there were no combatants on the streets, and Sheik al-Sadr’s office said militiamen and U.S. forces had agreed to withdraw from the city.

Gen. Kimmitt said the coalition had repositioned some forces, but had not withdrawn. Early Friday, U.S. troops pulled out of a central mosque that they had occupied after ousting insurgents who had used it as a base.

Iraqi leaders in Karbala have been trying to negotiate an end to the fighting, though coalition officials have stood by their position that Sheik al-Sadr disband his militia and “face justice.”

Also yesterday, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed and three others from the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division were wounded in an attack on their vehicle south of Baghdad, and a Marine died in an accident.

It said the soldiers’ vehicle was “ambushed by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device” in Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. The statement did not say when the attack occurred.

The Marine, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, died Friday near Camp Fallujah, west of Baghdad, while “conducting security and stability operations.”

Gen. Kimmitt said efforts to end fighting in Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad, had broken down because coalition forces continue to be attacked. Troops had temporarily suspended patrols to give tribal leaders time to negotiate with the militia.

Seven mortar rounds landed north of downtown Baghdad yesterday, he said. Two coalition soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were slightly injured.

In another area of Baghdad, a rocket struck a two-story house near the former Ministry of Information. There were no reports of casualties.

Gen. Kimmitt also said the military has found “no evidence of a wedding” at the site of an air strike last week near the Syrian border, and said evidence so far suggested the target was a desert base for foreign terrorists sneaking into Iraq.

He showed slides of military binoculars, guns and battery packs that could be used to trigger roadside bombs found by U.S. troops at the site. He said “terrorist manuals,” telephone numbers for Afghanistan and foreign passports, including one Sudanese, were also recovered there.

Survivors of the attack in Mogr el-Deeb, a desert village inhabited by members of the Bou Fahad clan, said they had just finished a wedding celebration when bombs fell before dawn Wednesday. More than 40 people were killed.

“There may have been some kind of celebration,” Gen. Kimmitt said. “Bad people have celebrations, too. Bad people have parties, too.”

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