- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

TALAFAR, Iraq — Suicide bombers, one in a car and another on foot, blew themselves up at the gates of two U.S. military bases yesterday, wounding 61 American soldiers but failing to inflict deadly casualties on the scale of recent attacks in Iraq.

Most of the soldiers were hurt slightly by debris and flying glass, indicating that massive defenses — sand barriers, high cement walls and numerous roadblocks leading to the entrances of bases — have paid off for American troops occupying Iraq.

Also yesterday, a U.S. Army observation helicopter took fire and made an emergency landing west of Baghdad. The two crew members walked away with “minimal injuries,” the U.S. military said. Residents said the helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter landed near Fallujah, a focus of resistance to the U.S. presence.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s interim government voted to establish a war-crimes tribunal to prosecute top members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, two persons who attended the meeting said.

The tribunal will be established formally today, when the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, temporarily cedes legislative authority to the Iraqi Governing Council so that it can create the court.

In the larger of the two suicide bombings, a man drove up to the gate of a base of the 101st Airborne Division in Talafar, 235 miles northwest of Baghdad, at 4:45 a.m., the military said. Guards at the gate and in a watchtower opened fire, and the vehicle blew up, leaving a large crater at the gate’s entryway.

Most soldiers were asleep in their barracks, and there was no traffic around the gate. Roadblocks had forced the assailant to drive slowly, giving enough time for guards to fire. A cement wall blunted the blast.

Maj. Trey Cate, a division spokesman, said 59 soldiers were wounded.

“Eight soldiers were medically evacuated, of which four were sent to Baghdad,” Maj. Cate said. The other 51 soldiers were wounded slightly by debris and flying glass, he said.

An Iraqi working as a translator also was wounded in the blast, which damaged nearby homes. Several other civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, were hurt by flying glass.

Later yesterday, a man acting suspiciously walked toward the gates of a U.S. base in Husseiniya, 15 miles northeast of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. military spokeswoman. When military police opened fire, he activated an explosive device and blew himself up. Two soldiers were wounded slightly.

In Baghdad, three persons were killed and two wounded early yesterday in an explosion in the courtyard of a Sunni mosque, police said. Firefighters said two or three rocket-propelled grenades had been placed near the wall of the mosque.

“They are ordinary criminals who targeted believers doing their prayers,” said Farouk Khamis, the mosque’s imam.

Since Saddam’s fall, Baghdad has been awash with charges by the city’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities that each side illegally was taking over mosques belonging to the other. Baghdad’s 5 million residents are thought to be equally divided among Shi’ites and Sunnis.

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