Tuesday, December 30, 2003

BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb that was apparently meant for a passing U.S. military convoy missed its target yesterday, exploding in a densely populated Baghdad neighborhood and killing an Iraqi civilian.

The attack in the Karrada neighborhood shattered windows on the busy street and destroyed a concrete road median but did not wound any U.S. troops.

“They’ve not killed any Americans, just Iraqis as usual,” said Karim Abbas, a shopkeeper. “We consider it terrorism.”

Bystanders said the Iraqi who died had worked in a nearby shop.

Roadside bombs have become the preferred weapon of anti-American guerrillas who generally lack the firepower of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said U.S. forces had detained a total of 101 suspected opponents of the coalition in the past 24 hours.

Earlier yesterday, U.S. troops said they detained three former army officers suspected of conducting anti-American attacks. During the raid in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. soldiers blew up the entrance to a house.

“We had a report of a terrorist cell, which has been conducting terrorist attacks on coalition forces,” Sgt. 1st Class David Wicklund said. “We came here in the early-morning hours and caught them while they were sleeping.”

The men appeared to be midlevel officials of the former regime. The highest-ranking official was a major.

Gen. Kimmitt said the number of engagements between coalition forces and insurgents has stayed “relatively the same” since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein.

“Unfortunately, some of those have been more deadly,” he said in a reference to a coordinated assault on Saturday in the southern city of Karbala that killed 19 persons. The victims included five Bulgarian soldiers, two Thai soldiers, six Iraqi police officers and six Iraqi civilians.

In Bangkok, military officers, government officials and family members paid respects to the two slain soldiers as their bodies arrived in the Thai capital yesterday.

Dan Senor, spokesman for the U.S. administration in Iraq, said U.S.-led forces and their Iraqi allies were stepping up security at gas stations and production facilities to curb fuel smuggling.

Mr. Senor said a total of 70,000 Iraqi police were now operating across the country, including 7,000 in Baghdad, a city of 5 million. Homicide and violent robbery rates have fallen dramatically as a result, he said.

Meanwhile in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it has asked the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq for access to Saddam.

Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal said that under the Geneva Convention, his organization has the right to contact any prisoner of war or detained civilian.

“Saddam Hussein, as somebody protected by the Geneva Convention, has a right to ICRC visits,” he told Agence France-Presse.

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