- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded in an upscale shopping district of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least six Iraqis and setting fire to an apartment building, in a surge of violence that has left at least 140 persons dead since a new government was formed last week.

Striking back at the insurgency, U.S. and Iraqi forces have detained 84 suspects in the Baghdad area since Sunday, the U.S. military said. An additional 52 suspects were detained yesterday in a joint operation in the Diyarah area, south of the capital.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, was searching for two missing U.S. Marine jets. The status of the two F/A-18 Hornet aircraft and their crews was not immediately known, the military said in a statement. Contact was lost with the aircraft at 10:10 p.m. local time yesterday, the statement said. There were no initial indications of hostile fire in the area at the time.

The surge in bloodshed is blamed on an insurgency believed largely made up of members of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, who dominated Iraq for decades under Saddam Hussein but were mainly shut out of a partial new Cabinet announced Thursday.

With the new government due to be sworn in today, incoming Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has filled six of the seven Cabinet seats that were left undecided last week, an aide, Laith Kuba, said yesterday. But disputes remained over the key Defense Ministry portfolio, which is destined for a Sunni.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s initial choice was rejected by members of his Shi’ite-dominated alliance because of suspected ties to Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, which brutally repressed Kurds and the majority Shi’ites. Since then, rival Sunni factions have submitted a number of candidates for the job.

Since Thursday, when Iraq’s interim government finally appointed a partial Cabinet after three months of political infighting, at least 140 persons, including 11 Americans and one British soldier, have been killed in a slew of bombings, ambushes and other attacks.

The worst toll in the recent spate of violence came Sunday when a suicide attacker detonated an ambulance loaded with explosives at a funeral for a Kurdish Democratic Party official, killing 25 persons and wounding more than 50 in Tal Afar, 90 miles east of the Syrian border.

At least 23 Iraqis were killed yesterday, including eight soldiers cut down by a suicide attacker who blew up a truck at a checkpoint south of the capital, and six civilians caught in a car bombing that set fire to a Baghdad apartment building.

A British soldier was also killed by a roadside bomb in the southern city of Amarah, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said. A total of 87 British troops have been killed in Iraq since the war started in 2003.

In northern Iraq, four persons were killed and seven injured when a car bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy east of Yarmuk, hospital officials in nearby Mosul said.

The British Embassy said yesterday that a fourth suspect had been detained in the abduction of British aid worker Margaret Hassan, who was believed slain by her captors last year.

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