- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Islamist militants yesterday turned their wrath on Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, vowing to kill the man who on June 30 will replace U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer as the most powerful man in post-Saddam Iraq.

A second group pledged to “strike with great power and with an iron fist” if Mr. Allawi goes ahead with announced plans to introduce martial law in parts of Iraq after the June 30 turnover.

The threat appeared on a Web site purportedly controlled by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian terror chief whose group is blamed for the beheading of a South Korean hostage on Tuesday.

“As for you, Allawi — sorry, the democratically elected prime minister — we have found for you a useful poison and a sure sword,” said a taped voice, thought to be that of Zarqawi.

Mr. Allawi, a former Ba’athist who plotted against Saddam Hussein from exile, responded defiantly, setting up a direct confrontation between himself and the insurgents.

“We do not care about these threats, we will continue to rebuild Iraq and work for freedom, democracy, justice and peace. Iraqis have faced these threats before,” said a spokesman for Mr. Allawi.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Mr. Allawi dismissed Zarqawi as a criminal who would be caught and punished.

“Abu Musab al-Zarqawi doesn’t threaten just me, but the entire country,” Mr. Allawi told the newspaper, which released a copy of the interview last night.

“He has killed hundreds of Iraqis, has sown disorder and fear,” Mr. Allawi was quoted as saying. “But he is just a criminal who must be captured and tried. We are used to threats, and we know how to deal with them and how to win.”

A second group warned Mr. Allawi against imposing martial law in parts of the country, something he said he will consider after being sworn in at month’s end.

“We warn you against this crime, which you are carrying out on behalf of your occupation masters. … We will strike with great power and with an iron fist against all those who bless it,” the group, claiming to represent Iraqi resistance and jihad factions, said in a videotape aired by Dubai-based Al Arabiya.

The increased focus on Mr. Allawi brought no letup in attacks on U.S. and allied forces, however.

The military said insurgents staged at least six attacks on American convoys throughout the country yesterday, wounding one U.S. soldier and a civilian contractor.

Zarqawi’s group has taken responsibility for the beheading of American hostage Nicholas Berg last month and of Kim Sun-il, a South Korean whose decapitated body was found Tuesday.

Hours after Mr. Kim’s body was found, the U.S. military launched its second attack against Zarqawi in three days with an air strike on a suspected safe house in Fallujah. A coalition military official said 20 foreign fighters and terrorists were thought to have been killed in the strike.

Fallujah residents and hospital officials said the strike hit a parking lot, killing three persons and wounding nine.

In an interview yesterday with Associated Press Television News, U.S. Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt said many of the major attacks in Iraq are carried out by Zarqawi’s forces, while former regime supporters are responsible for smaller assaults.

“He is a very, very crafty leader of a large network that is conducting terrorist operations inside this country,” Gen. Kimmitt said.

“The people of Iraq must understand they have a responsibility. They bear a responsibility to make sure we take Zarqawi and his network off of the street.”

Zarqawi’s group killed Mr. Kim, a 33-year-old South Korean, after the Seoul government rejected its demands to withdraw troops from Iraq. His body was dumped on a road between Baghdad and Fallujah, a hotbed of Islamic extremism.

Iraq’s president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, said Mr. Kim’s killing violated Iraqi and Islamic tradition and “completely tarnishes Iraq.”

“How could we rebuild our country if we can’t guarantee the safety of people who come to help build our country?” Mr. al-Yawer said on the U.S.-funded TV station Al Iraqiya.

U.S. and Iraqi officials long have warned against stepped-up violence ahead of the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, which marks the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation.

Late yesterday, insurgents hurled a hand grenade at the newly refurbished Iraqi Transportation Ministry, then engaged in a 10-minute gunbattle with security guards, injuring at least one, residents said.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb in Baghdad killed a policeman, a woman and her child, Iraqi police said.

Another roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded four others. In Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 60 miles west of Baghdad, gunmen killed two policemen and wounded a third in a drive-by attack, witnesses said.

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