- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s most feared terror group yesterday claimed responsibility for slaughtering members of the Iraqi security forces in Mosul, where dozens of bodies have been found. The statement raised fears that the terror group has expanded to the north after the loss of its purported base in Fallujah.

Insurgents, meanwhile, attacked U.S. and Iraqi targets in Baghdad and in Sunni Arab areas. Two U.S. soldiers were injured in a Baghdad attack, and another American soldier died in a traffic accident north of the capital, the military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 17 suspected insurgents in raids south of the capital yesterday, Iraqi police said. Operations included a speedboat assault by U.S. Marines and British and Iraqi troops on suspected insurgent hide-outs along the Euphrates River, British press reported.

A statement posted on an Islamist Web site in the name of al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for killing 17 members of Iraq’s security forces and a Kurdish militiaman in Mosul, where terrorists rose up this month in response to a U.S.-led assault in Fallujah.

The statement could not be independently verified, but the style of writing appeared similar to others by Zarqawi’s group, which is responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages in Iraq.

At least 50 persons have been killed in Mosul in the past 10 days. Most of the victims are thought to have been supporters of Iraq’s interim government or members of its fledgling security forces.

The Zarqawi group’s statement raised fears that the organization had spread to Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. At least 43 men have been arrested as part of an ongoing operation to re-establish control of Mosul, the military said.

Zarqawi’s group, formerly known as Tawhid and Jihad, was thought to have headquarters in Fallujah, the Sunni Arab insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad, before U.S. and Iraqi forces overran the city this month.

Zarqawi and the city’s two major Iraqi insurgent leaders, Sheik Abdullah al-Janabi and Omar Hadid, apparently escaped the onslaught and remain at large. Before the assault, U.S. intelligence officers speculated that Zarqawi would try to relocate to Mosul if he lost his base in Fallujah.

U.S. and Iraqi officials staged the offensive against Fallujah in hopes of pacifying Sunni areas north and west of the capital so elections could be held there Jan. 30. Iraqis will select a national assembly in the first vote since Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed in April 2003.

Sunni politicians have called for postponing the vote for six months, although the government and the influential Shi’ite clerical leadership have rejected the proposal.

In Cairo, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said Arab governments wanted to see the Iraqi leadership take steps toward national reconciliation before the January vote “because it is important to have a successful election.” Most Arab nations have Sunni majorities.

In London, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, said delaying the election would have “serious ramifications to the political process” and would bolster the insurgents’ cause.

“Sticking to that timetable will be difficult, will be a serious challenge,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

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