- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

BAGHDAD — Two trucks packed with explosives blew up yesterday outside a Polish-run base south of Baghdad after coalition forces opened fire on the suicide bombers racing toward them. Eight Iraqi civilians were killed and at least 106 persons were wounded, many of them coalition soldiers.

The two drivers also were killed, the U.S. military said, but no information about their identities was available.

Also yesterday, U.S. troops reported capturing seven suspected militants believed linked to al Qaeda in a raid in the central Iraqi city of Baqouba.

Troops from the 4th Infantry Division carried out the raid targeting an “anticoalition cell” that may have ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror group, a statement from U.S. command said.

Seven suspects specifically targeted in the raid and 15 others were detained, the statement said.

Baqouba is in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad, the heartland of anti-U.S. violence in Iraq.

In Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, the Polish commander of the region, Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek, called the suicide bombings near the base a “well-coordinated attack.”

U.S. officials have predicted an increase in attacks as the June 30 date for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq approaches.

“The enemy’s strategy is fairly clear,” coalition military commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Tikrit yesterday. “They plan to isolate us from the Iraqi people.”

The bombing happened after 7:15 a.m. when two trucks loaded with explosives approached the front of the coalition base known as Camp Charlie. Guards fired at the vehicles, causing one to explode. The other struck a concrete barrier and exploded.

Eleven homes near the base collapsed in the blast and others were damaged, entire sides blown off. Debris littered the area.

Men, women and children were among the dead. The wounded included at least 32 Iraqis and 26 Poles, as well as Hungarians, Bulgarians, Filipinos and an American.

Poland leads a multinational force of about 9,500 soldiers in south-central Iraq, and its troops also fought in the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein. A Polish officer was killed in Iraq in November, the first Polish soldier killed in combat since the aftermath of World War II.

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