- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

BAGHDAD — Facing a major assault in Fallujah, terrorists struck back yesterday with suicide car bombs, mortars and rockets across a wide swath of central Iraq, killing more than 30 people and wounding more than 60, including nearly two dozen Americans.

The attacks appeared aimed at relieving pressure on Fallujah, where about 10,000 American troops are massing for a major assault. U.S. jets pounded Fallujah early yesterday in the heaviest air strikes in six months — including five 500-pound bombs dropped on terrorist targets.

The deadliest attacks by the terrorists yesterday occurred in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of Baghdad that U.S. and Iraqi commanders have touted as a model for pacifying restive Sunni Muslim areas of the country.

Militants in Samarra stormed a police station, triggered at least two suicide car bombs and fired mortars at government installations. One of the car bombs, targeting the mayor’s office, used a stolen Iraqi police vehicle, the U.S. military said.

Twenty-nine persons, 17 police and 12 Iraqi civilians, were killed throughout the city, the U.S. military said. Arabic language television stations said more than 30 died as gangs of militants roamed the city, clashing with American and Iraqi forces.

The dead included the local Iraqi national guard commander, Abdel Razeq Shaker al-Garmali, hospital officials said. Another 40 persons, including 17 policemen, were injured, the military said.

U.S. military vehicles roamed through the besieged city using loudspeakers to announce an indefinite curfew starting at 2 p.m. yesterday. American warplanes and helicopters roamed the skies.

Elsewhere, 16 American soldiers were wounded yesterday when a suicide bomber using an Iraqi police car rammed their convoy in Ramadi, a major city in the volatile Sunni Triangle, U.S. officials said. They gave no further details, citing security.

Three other Americans were wounded when a car bomb exploded near the entrance to Baghdad International Airport. One Iraqi was killed and another injured, the U.S. military said. Three Humvees were heavily damaged, witnesses said.

Two Marines were injured by a car bomb near a Fallujah checkpoint, and a U.S. soldier was wounded when a roadside bomb exploded south of Fallujah.

Samarra, an ancient city of gold-domed mosques that once served as the capital of a Muslim empire extending from Spain to India, was recaptured from Sunni Muslim rebels in September and was touted as a model for restoring government control to other areas formerly under guerrilla domination.

U.S. and Iraqi forces hope to use the same techniques if they drive Sunni militants from Fallujah. American commanders have assembled a force of Marines, soldiers and U.S.-trained Iraqi fighters around Fallujah, a major rebel base 40 miles west of Baghdad.

They are awaiting orders from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to launch an all-out assault.

However, the violence in Samarra underscored the difficulty of maintaining civilian authority in Sunni areas even after the worst of the fighting ebbs.

“I cannot claim that entering Fallujah will end the terrorist attacks in Iraq,” Iraq’s national security adviser, Qassem Dawoud, told Al Arabiya television.

“But I can say that we will deal with a very big pocket of terrorism in Iraq and we will uproot it. This pocket forms the backbone and the center for terrorists in other areas in Iraq.”

Elsewhere, gunmen killed a former official of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. The assailants stopped a car carrying former Lt. Col. Abdul Sattar al-Luheibi, ordered him out of the car and gunned him down in front of his 13-year-old son.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities hope to curb the insurgency so that national elections can be held by the end of January.

The influential Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars has threatened to call a boycott if Fallujah is attacked. A public outcry over civilian casualties prompted the Bush administration to call off a siege in April, after which Fallujah fell under control of radical clerics.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the Iraqi people posted yesterday on the Internet, 26 Saudi scholars and religious leaders said that armed resistance against American troops and their Iraqi allies was a “legitimate right.” The scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, prohibiting Iraqis from offering any support for military operations carried out by U.S. forces against militant strongholds.

“Fighting the occupiers is a duty for all those who are able,” said the letter dated Friday. “It is a jihad to push back the assailants. … Resistance is a legitimate right. A Muslim must not inflict harm on any resistance man or inform about them. Instead, they should be supported and protected.”

Military planners believe there are about 1,200 hard-core fighters in Fallujah — at least half of them Iraqis. They are bolstered by cells with up to 2,000 fighters in the surrounding towns and countryside.

Iraqi authorities have closed a border crossing point with Syria, and U.S. troops have sealed the main highway into Fallujah.

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