- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

BAGHDAD — Bombing and shooting attacks west of Baghdad killed six U.S. troops, and a suicide car bomber slammed into a truck carrying Iraqi police officers near the airport yesterday, killing at least eight and wounding 25 — the latest wave of violence aimed at derailing Iraq’s advancing political process.

But Jordanian-born terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi’s hope to provoke sectarian war suffered a setback when the Shi’ite-led parliament and leaders of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, which is thought to provide the backbone of the insurgency, agreed on a process for drafting Iraq’s constitution.

Elsewhere, dozens of hooded insurgents surrounded a downtown mosque in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, to prevent a meeting of local politicians and tribal leaders on the country’s new charter and reconciliation efforts.

“We told them to leave Iraq’s issues for us. We are the only ones who can liberate Iraq by fighting infidels and not by holding conferences. And instead of spending money for this conference, they have to give it to us to buy weapons to help our fighting against the Americans,” a masked man told Iraqi reporters outside the empty mosque.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Alston took aim at Zarqawi, saying the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is most responsible for the nearly 1,100 violent deaths since the Shi’ite-led government took office seven weeks ago.

“With Zarqawi’s push recently, we certainly see the fantastic rise in the number of civilians killed, given that he has proclaimed that taking out civilians is an acceptable thing,” said Gen. Alston, spokesman for the U.S.-led international military force in Iraq.

Last month, an audiotape said to be from Zarqawi denounced the country’s majority Shi’ites as collaborators with the Americans and said it was justified for Muslims to kill such people even if they are Muslims.

Gen. Alston said popular anger over the targeting of civilians has brought an increase in calls to tip lines.

He said tips to Iraqi authorities resulted in Tuesday’s arrest of Mohammed Khalaf, also known as Abu Talha, who was al Qaeda’s leader in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

The deaths of the six U.S. troops — five Marines and one sailor — came Wednesday during insurgent attacks that killed 58 persons, making it the deadliest day in more than a month.

The Marines were killed after their vehicle was attacked near Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. Officials in Ramadi had reported a roadside bomb blast in the pre-dawn hours.

A sailor attached to the Marines’ unit was killed Wednesday in Ramadi by gunfire, the military said.

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