- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

BAGHDAD — Terrorists killed 38 persons in a series of rapid-fire attacks yesterday, including three suicide car bombings within an hour and a drive-by shooting at a busy Baghdad market that ratcheted up the bloody campaign to undermine Iraq’s government.

Iraq’s interior minister, meanwhile, announced that the government offensive seeking to root out rebels in Baghdad had scored big gains, saying this week’s sweep by Iraqi soldiers and police captured 700 suspected insurgents and killed 28 militants.

Iraqi and U.S. forces have stepped up operations to answer an insurgent onslaught that has killed at least 814 persons since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Cabinet five weeks ago, but militants staged deadly attacks across a swath of northern Iraq.

In Tuz Khormato, a popular highway stop 55 miles south of the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber targeted bodyguards for Iraq’s Kurdish deputy prime minister as they ate at a restaurant. The blast took 12 lives.

“I was sitting inside my restaurant when about six cars parked nearby and their passengers came inside and ordered food,” owner Ahmed al-Dawoudi said. “Seconds later, I heard a big explosion and the restaurant was turned into twisted wreckage and rubble. Blood and pieces of flesh were everywhere.”

Earlier in Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber trying to attack a convoy of civilian contract workers killed a boy and three other Iraqi bystanders and wounded 11 others.

Another suicide bomber killed four and wounded four in Baqouba, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Hours later, two parked motorcycles rigged with bombs blew up near a coffee shop there, killing five Iraqis and wounding 13.

In the capital, men in three speeding cars sprayed gunfire into a crowded market in the neighborhood of Hurriyah, killing nine, the interior and defense ministries said. Two other attacks in the Baghdad area killed four persons.

As part of the campaign against insurgents, Iraq’s government in Baghdad on Sunday began the biggest Iraqi offensive since Saddam Hussein’s fall two years ago.

Police patrols and checkpoints are increasingly visible around Baghdad’s dusty streets as the operation intensifies.

Officials say the operation to cordon off the city of 6 million people involves 40,000 soldiers and police, though not all are manning positions at any one time. Before the offensive, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad’s 23 entrances, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said.

“By organizing our forces and devising security plans, we will be able in the next few months to significantly reduce terrorism and killings,” Mr. Jabr said.

He said the Baghdad operation had netted at least 700 people he labeled “terrorists” and killed 28 rebels in firefights. In addition, 118 criminal suspects had been arrested, he said.

“We believe the security situation has improved by 60 percent since Operation Lightning began,” Mr. Jabr said.

Leaders of the Sunni Arab minority complained yesterday that their community was being targeted by the crackdown and threatened to boycott the drafting of Iraq’s new constitution — a crucial document that U.S. officials hope will help stabilize Iraq.

“I swear by God that we’ll demand none from now on to lay down his weapon,” said Osam Al-Rawi, head of the Iraqi teachers union and representative of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group thought to be close to the insurgency.

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