- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

BAGHDAD — Terrorists killed at least 69 persons in a wave of explosions and gunfire across Iraq yesterday, despite a major U.S. offensive targeting followers of Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist near the Syrian border.

An additional 170 people were wounded as suicide bombs ripped through a crowded market and a line of security-force recruits — pushing the death toll from terrorist violence to more than 400 in less than two weeks.

Insurgents averaged about 70 attacks a day at the start of May, up from 30 to 40 in February and March, said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq.

In response, hundreds of American troops in tanks and light-armored vehicles have rolled through desert outposts along the Euphrates River this week in search of followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Operation Matador was launched after U.S. intelligence showed that terrorists had moved into the northern Al Jazirah Desert after losses in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

U.S. military spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool said the region is used as staging area for foreign fighters who cross into Iraq from Syria along ancient smuggling routes known as “rat lines.”

In dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit yesterday, a suicide car bomb exploded in a small market near a police station, killing at least 33 persons and injuring 92, police and hospital officials said.

The attacker swerved into a crowd of day laborers waiting to be picked up for work at construction sites after heavy security prevented the vehicle from reaching the station, police said.

The Sunni militant Ansar al-Sunnah Army took responsibility for the attack in a posting on its Web site yesterday.

About 90 minutes later, in Hawija, a town 150 miles north of Baghdad, a man with hidden explosives slipped past security guards at a police and army recruitment center and blew himself up outside the building, where applicants were lined up. At least 30 persons were killed and 35 injured, police said.

Four more car bombs exploded in Baghdad, including one that wounded three U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military said. In the other three, four Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded, including at least three policemen, Iraqi police said.

In western Baghdad, gunmen clashed with a police patrol on a highway, killing one officer and wounding another.

Another bomb exploded at Iraq’s largest fertilizer plant in the southern city of Basra, killing one person and wounding 23, police and employees said. The blast set fire to a gas pipeline and destroyed about 60 percent of the plant.

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