Wednesday, February 11, 2004

BAGHDAD — A second suicide bombing in as many days killed up to 47 persons yesterday, pushing the toll in the back-to-back attacks to 100. Again, Iraqis were the targets — this time, a crowd of volunteers for Iraq’s new army — in an apparent campaign to wreck U.S. plans to transfer power by summer.

The U.S. military posted a $10 million bounty on a Jordanian militant suspected of organizing violence by foreign fighters and plotting an acceleration in attacks aimed at sparking a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war in Iraq.

The United States made public a letter to al Qaeda leaders thought to be sent by the militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In it, he warns that militants are in a “race against time” to stop the June 30 transfer of power, when Iraqi security forces will take a stronger role in battling the insurgency. The military announced Monday that it intercepted the document.

In yesterday’s attack in Baghdad, an Oldsmobile packed with 300 to 500 pounds of explosives drove up to a crowd of Iraqis waiting outside an army recruitment center — only a few blocks from the heavily fortified green zone, headquarters of the U.S. administration.

The driver detonated the explosives, killing 47 persons and wounding 55, the U.S.-led coalition said. The Iraqi Interior Ministry put the toll at 46 dead.

The aim of the attack was clearly to kill Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition, rather than a particular religious group, because the crowd was likely a mix of Sunnis and Shi’ites.

But the suicide bombing Tuesday targeted a mostly Shi’ite town, Iskandariyah, south of the capital. A truck carrying a similar amount of explosives blew up outside a police station, killing 53 Iraqis, including would-be recruits lined up to apply for jobs.

Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said the attackers “want to undermine security so that independence will be delayed.” The frequency of attacks also may be a “message” to a U.N. team of specialists now in Iraq to assess whether an early election can be held before the transfer of power, he said.

Yesterday’s was at least the ninth major vehicle bombing in Iraq this year — and U.S. officials say that as the June 30 deadline nears, more attacks are likely.

The Americans have portrayed the letter from al-Zarqawi as a sign of insurgents’ desperation to stop the transfer of power. The letter complained that Iraqi guerrillas have not cooperated enough with foreign Islamist fighters and said attacks would be tougher to carry out once Iraqi security forces take a stronger role.

“With the spread of the army and police, our future is becoming frightening,” it says. If the insurgency fails to prevent the transfer of power, “then there will be no choice but to pack our bags and move to another land.”

Insurgents have mounted a string of car and suicide bombings in recent weeks — the deadliest in the northern city of Irbil on Feb. 1, when two bombers blew themselves up at Kurdish party offices, killing at least 109 persons.

Since Jan. 1, at least 261 Iraqi civilians have been killed in major suicide attacks or car bombings, according to an AP tally based on reports issued by the U.S. military or Iraqi police. Neither the Iraqi interim government nor the U.S. military provides comprehensive figures on Iraqi casualties nationwide.

At least 532 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 372 died as a result of hostile action.

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