- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military announced yesterday the arrest of a senior Iraqi national guard commander on suspicion of ties to insurgents, underscoring the challenges to building a strong Iraq security service capable of restoring stability.

Hours earlier, two car bombs wounded U.S. and Iraqi troops outside a national guard post west of Baghdad.

The two attackers, who died in the blasts, tried to ram their cars into a base in Kharma, a town on the outskirts of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, a U.S. military official said on the condition of anonymity.

The number of U.S. and Iraqi casualties was not clear, but the U.S. Marines said there were no serious injuries among American troops at the base.

The national guard is the centerpiece of U.S. plans to turn over security responsibilities after elections slated for January, and guardsmen have been targeted repeatedly by insurgents trying to undermine Iraq’s interim government and drive out the U.S.-led coalition.

But the threat might not only come from outside the force. Guard Brig. Gen. Talib al-Lahibi, who previously served as an infantry officer in Saddam Hussein’s army, was detained Thursday in the province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military announced.

The military provided no details, but said he was suspected of having links to militants who have been attacking coalition and Iraqi forces for 17 months. Gen. al-Lahibi was the acting head of the Iraqi national guard for Diyala province, said Maj. Neal O’Brien, spokesman for the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian diplomat and two British Muslim leaders urged religious leaders here to help secure the release of hostages.

Egyptian official Farouq Mabrouk sought help for six Egyptian telecommunications workers abducted with four Iraqis last week. Gen. Mabrouk refused to speak with reporters after his 30-minute meeting with Harith al-Dhari, who leads the Association of Muslim Scholars, an organization that opposes U.S. forces in Iraq but has helped win the release of other foreign captives.

Gunmen abducted two of the Egyptians on Thursday in a raid on their firm’s Baghdad office — the latest in a string of kidnappings targeting engineers helping to rebuild Iraq. Eight other employees — four Egyptians and four Iraqis — were seized outside of Baghdad on Wednesday.

Two senior officials of the Muslim Council of Britain were in Baghdad seeking freedom for hostage Kenneth Bigley, a British civil engineer kidnapped Sept. 16 with two Americans who later were beheaded.

After meeting with Muslim and Christian leaders, Daud Abdullah and Musharraf Hussain told reporters, “We cannot hold a British citizen responsible for what [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair did.”

A posting on an Islamic Internet site on Saturday said followers of Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi had killed Mr. Bigley, but the British Foreign Office said the claim was not credible.

More than 140 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq — some by anti-U.S. insurgents and others by criminals seeking ransom. At least 26 have been killed, including the two American civil engineers, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley.

In other violence yesterday, U.S. troops and insurgents traded fire in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing at least three persons and wounding four, witnesses and hospital officials said. Insurgents fired mortar rounds and rockets at two U.S. positions west and east of the city, and U.S. forces responded with shelling, striking a house in Tamim neighborhood, witnesses said.

A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one person and wounding eight, hospital officials and witnesses said.

Hours after the attack, another loud blast shook the area near the green zone, where the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government are located. Smoke rose above the zone, and alert sirens sounded. It was not clear whether anything had been hit.

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