- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi terrorists set off bombs and fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at military convoys, checkpoints and police patrols in a spate of violence yesterday that killed 33 persons and wounded dozens.

The terror group al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for much of the bloodshed.

The wave of violence came as Dutch troops ended their mission in the southern city of Samawa and turned command of the area over to the British, along with responsibility for 550 Japanese soldiers. The Dutch government last year decided to pull out its final 350 troops, despite requests from Britain and the United States.

Another ally, Bulgaria, demanded yesterday that the United States investigate what appeared to be a friendly-fire incident Friday that killed of one of the 460 Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq. Although Bulgaria’s defense minister said the death would not lead to a withdrawal, his government must decide this month whether to keep troops in Iraq past July.

Al Qaeda in Iraq purportedly claimed responsibility in an Internet statement for much of the bloodshed that killed 15 persons yesterday in and around Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The assaults included a car bomb, three roadside bombs and small arms attacks on three checkpoints, one of them just south of Baqouba in Muradiyah, police said.

A car bomb also killed 12 persons in Balad, southeast of Baqouba.

In Baghdad, terrorists killed two police officers and wounded a third, while two civilians were killed when a roadside bomb targeting a joint U.S.-Iraqi military convoy exploded in the Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah.

In Baghdad’s Doura district, gunmen killed Mahmood Khudier, a former Iraqi army officer, while a man was killed in a mortar attack in Qaim, near the Syrian border, hospital and police officials said.

As the attacks persisted, so did negotiations to form Iraq’s first democratically elected government. Iraqi Kurds said they were close to a deal with the Shi’ite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance to secure many of their territorial demands and ensure the country’s secular character after its National Assembly convenes March 16.

The dominant Shi’ite Muslim alliance, however, said although it agreed that Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani would become Iraq’s president, it was still talking about other conditions set by the Kurds for their support in the 275-member legislative body.

The Shi’ite alliance controls 140 seats and needs the 75 seats won by the Kurds in the Jan. 30 elections to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to elect a president and later seat their choice for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

An alliance official said interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose party won 40 seats, refused an offer for a Cabinet post. Mr. Allawi’s office could not be reached for comment.

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