- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

BAGHDAD — Car bombs and gunmen killed more than 20 people yesterday, including an American soldier, as the government said insurgency-related violence cost the country’s vital oil industry about $6.25 billion in damage and lost revenue last year.

British and Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, confirmed that two foreigners who disappeared two days ago in the southeastern city of Basra were Macedonians kidnapped on their way from the airport to the city center. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom, officials said.

Most of the attacks yesterday were directed against the U.S. military and Iraqi police, with civilians caught up in the violence.

The American soldier died when a roadside bomb exploded about 8 a.m. near the Shaab soccer stadium in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. command said in a statement. It was the first death of an American soldier since Tuesday and brought the number of U.S. personnel killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003 to at least 2,273, according to an Associated Press count.

Four Iraqi policemen were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a fuel tanker on an eastern Baghdad highway, police said. Another bomb exploded at midmorning in another part of east Baghdad, missing a police patrol but killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding four, police said.

A senior Baghdad police official escaped assassination when a bomb exploded near his convoy in the Karradah district. Brig. Abdul-Karim Maryoush was unharmed but two police escorts died, officials said.

Elsewhere, two more Iraqi civilians were killed in a pair of roadside bombings — one in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, and another in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital.

Both those bombs were intended for police patrols, officials in each city said.

Another bomb in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, killed a child and blew off his brother’s legs, police said.

U.S. soldiers killed three men trying to plant roadside bombs in Baghdad’s notorious Dora neighborhood, police said. At least 10 other Iraqis died in a series of gunfights and ambushes throughout Baghdad, including two policemen slain on their way home last night, police said.

The U.S. command said American and Iraqi troops found and destroyed 11 roadside bombs and three weapons caches in Baghdad in the past 24 hours. Twenty-nine suspects were arrested, the command said.

In addition, police found the bodies of four men — bound, blindfolded and shot to death — in three locations in the Iraqi capital. Their identities were not known, and it was not clear when they died, but they appeared to be victims of reprisal attacks by Shi’ite and Sunni extremists.

The Interior Ministry has announced an investigation into reports of Shi’ite death squads in police ranks after U.S. troops arrested 22 policemen preparing to kill a Sunni Arab last month.

Also yesterday, a government official released figures showing the devastating effects of the insurgency on the country’s oil industry, the foundation of Iraq’s economy. The industry suffered $6.25 billion in losses in 2005 from infrastructure sabotage and lost export revenues, Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

Mr. Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires that Iraqi oil installations were hit by 186 attacks last year in which insurgents killed 47 oil engineers, technicians and workers as well as about 100 police protecting pipelines and other oil-related facilities.

Violence and attacks against foreign contractors also have had a devastating effect on the economy, driving up security costs and delaying reconstruction projects.

British and Iraqi officials said two Macedonians of Albanian ethnicity were seized two days ago along with a Macedonian woman, who was released. The three work for Ecolog, a German-owned Macedonian company that has a cleaning contact at the Basra International Airport.

A $1 million ransom has been demanded for their release, a company employee said on the condition of anonymity.

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