- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

BAGHDAD — Gunmen opened fire on a van filled with police recruits south of Baghdad yesterday, killing nine. In a separate incident, assailants fatally shot two police officers — twin brothers — north of the capital.

The slayings were the latest to target police and other Iraqis who work with the U.S.-led coalition.

Early today, attackers fired a rocket that struck the Sheraton Hotel, where foreign contractors and journalists stay. Security guards said there were no reported casualties.

The rocket hit a sixth-floor ledge, and the explosion left the lobby strewn with glass, said security guard Rabah Nasser.

U.S. soldiers protect the Sheraton, which is ringed by a concrete blast wall to ward off bombing attempts. A U.S. military spokesman said he had no information about the blast.

The attack in the south took place on a road between Musayeb and Hillah when a car pulled in front of the minibus and assailants sprayed the van with small-arms fire, police in Hillah said.

A U.S. military official confirmed that nine persons died and said two were wounded. Iraqi police said one wounded trainee survived.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen in a car killed two officers and wounded two others, police Capt. Abdul-Salam Zangana said. He identified the slain victims as twins Ahmed and Muhammad Kadhim, who were killed as they were parking their car in a main square and as worshippers left a nearby mosque.

In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, Iraqi police fired shots to disperse a violent protest of Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on Monday.

Iraqi police fired into the air after protesters burned two police cars and two hand grenades were thrown at the governor’s office, witnesses said. Television footage showed U.S. soldiers remaining behind at the building, protected by concrete blast barriers, as police with assault rifles moved down the street to disperse the crowd. At least two police and three protesters were wounded.

Muslim clerics in Ramadi, where support for the anti-U.S. insurgency is strong, had urged followers to protest the slaying of Sheik Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group.

In Mosul, a city in the north, a mortar attack on an Iraqi military base killed two civilians and wounded six, Reuters news agency reported, citing local officials.

Also in Mosul, a U.S. soldier from the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division died in a “noncombat-related shooting” on Monday, the military said. An investigation was under way.

At Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, the U.S. military released 272 detainees who had been picked up in security sweeps. The men, many of them bearded and wearing Arab robes or track suits, appeared to be in good health.

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