- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 29 (UPI) — Four U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday at a checkpoint in Najaf, central Iraq, when a suicide bomber exploded his car while he was stopped for a routine check, U.S. Central Command confirmed.

The incident reflects the way the conventional military battle U.S. and British forces thought they would face has started to look more like the guerilla war of the Palestinian intifada against Israel. Several groups of Palestinian militants have launched deadly suicide bombings in Israeli markets, cafes and buses.

Details of the attack are still unclear, but the suicide bomber was reportedly dressed as a civilian and approached the checkpoint in a taxi. He reportedly signaled for help, and then blew himself up and the vehicle as the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division approached, according to an account from a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter.

It will not be the last such attack, however, declared Iraqi Deputy President Taha Yassin Ramadan later Saturday.

"This is a beginning. You will hear good news in the few coming days. The Iraqi people will receive them the way those miserable (U.S. British forces) deserve," he said.

Ramadan identified the "martyr" who blew up his booby-trapped car at a routine check in Najaf as Ali Jaafar Hammad al-Naamani. Iraqi TV said al-Naamani was an Army officer.

He refused to describe the attack as "suicide," saying instead: "We call them martyrdom operations because the one who commits suicide is desperate and not a person who has faith in his country, freedom and honor and reaches the level of offering his blood to save his people."

U.S. military officials tried to put a better face on the tactic. The bombing was "a symbol of an organization that's starting to get a little bit desperate," said Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart during a briefing Saturday afternoon at the Combined Forces Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

"I'd ask, 'Where have we seen those types of events occur?' I think we would all agree that all of them are associated with terrorist events," Renuart said.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas urged Iraqis the day war broke out to use suicide bombings against coalition forces. A spokesman for Hamas, Abdel Aziz Ranteesi, said March 20: "I believe that the Iraqi people should prepare an army of suicide bombers to hit the Americans everywhere on their lands until they would be able to defend their country and defeat the aggression."

On Saturday, a senior Hamas member praised the Najah suicide bombing. Isma'eel Haneya told United Press International in Gaza that carrying out such attacks by the Iraqi people "is showing how awful the massacres and the crimes that are committed by the American and the British forces against the Iraqis."

The U.S. State Department has designated Hamas — the Arabic word for "courage" as well as an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement — as a terrorist organization. Suicide bombings by Hamas and other Palestinian militants have killed hundreds in the past 30 months and wounded thousands more.

"Such attacks would of course bring about fear and put the soldiers of the enemy in a status of panic and would make an earthquake under their foot," declared Haneya. "The Iraqi people should learn from the experience of the Palestinian people. Both the Iraqis and the Palestinians are tough people and no power in the world can defeat them."

In Kuwait a British staff officer told UPI, "Suicide bombing in rear areas means a very new kind of war."

The attack is the second suicide bombing since military operations began in Iraq on March 20. Freelance Australian cameraman Paul Moran was killed March 22 when a man detonated a car at a Kurdish checkpoint in northeastern Iraq. The Islamist Kurd group Ansar al-Islam was believed behind that attack.

(Saud Abu Ramadan, in Gaza, contributed to this report.)

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