Bombing blitz as Saddam indicted

BAGHDAD (AP) — Suicide bombers killed 22 people in the Baghdad area Sunday, as insurgents stepped up a relentless campaign that claimed more than 90 lives a night before in a horrific bombing south of the capital. The government filed its first criminal case against Saddam Hussein for a 1982 massacre of Shiites.
The US military announced that two American soldiers also died in separate attacks over the weekend. At least 1,767 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

One car bomber Sunday struck the offices of Iraq’s electoral commission in eastern Baghdad, killing five election employees and one policeman. The commission said in a statement that it “affirms its determination to continue the electoral process,” including planned votes for a new constitution and government later this year.

In another attack, insurgents dumped two bodies on the road, then struck police who stopped to inspect them, the US military said. Two policemen and one civilian were killed and eight people wounded in the explosion.

About an hour later a suicide car bomber attacked a police convoy near a bus station in southern Baghdad, killing three police commandos and four civilians, police Capt. Talib Thamir said. Three civilians also were wounded in that blast.

Another suicide car bomber missed a US convoy but blasted two minibuses, killing six civilians and wounding nine in Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, police Capt. Rashid Samarie said.

The US command said in a statement Sunday that two Americans were killed in bombings the day before — one in Iskandariyah, 50 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, and the other near Kirkuk, 290 kilometres north of the capital. Two soldiers were wounded in the Kirkuk attack, the military said.

In Baghdad, the head of Iraq’s Special Tribunal announced the first criminal case has been filed against Saddam, stemming from the 1982 massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt.

Raid Juhi, chief judge of the Iraq Special Tribunal, said the investigation into the July 8, 1982, massacre in Dujail, 80 kilometres north of Baghdad, has been completed, and the case was referred to the courts for trial. The step roughly corresponds to an indictment in the US legal system.

The date for the trial of Saddam and three others was expected to be determined in “the coming days,” Juhi said. If convicted, the four could face the death penalty.

Some US officials have quietly urged the Iraqis to proceed carefully in prosecuting Saddam for fear a trial could further enflame tensions at a time the Shiite-led government is trying to lure Sunnis away from the insurgency.

Those overtures have been impeded by a sharp rise in suicide bombings, which have taken a toll on Iraqi civilians. More than 60 people have died in Baghdad alone since Friday.

The weekend’s most devastating attack occurred in Musayyib, 70 kilometres south of Baghdad, where a suicide bombing ignited a fuel truck in front of a Shiite mosque as thousands were strolling through nearby markets in the cool of the evening or heading for sunset prayers.

The Iraqi government reported Sunday that the death toll stood at “more than 90,” and hospital officials said more than 150 were injured. It was the deadliest strike since the new government was announced April 28 — and exceeded only by a February 28 suicide car bombing in Hillah that killed 125.

An August 29, 2003, car bomb outside a mosque in Najaf killed more than 85, but a definitive death toll was never released.

“The enemies of freedom and humanity in Iraq have committed a new ugly crime that shows their bankruptcy as they target our innocent civilians in the Mussayib district killing more than 90 people,” the government said in a statement Sunday.

“The Iraqi government condemns this brutal attack and promises the Iraqi people it will continue to tighten the grip on the terrorist organisation by improving our armed forces and regaining control of security.” A day after the carnage, dazed survivors and relatives wandered through the charred wreckage. Some wept as they lifted blankets covering blackened bodies of victims. One weeping man struck himself in the head as a sign of grief.

A woman shrouded in black screamed as she walked by the bombing site.

Several men carried wooden coffins on their shoulders, leaving the scene where nearly all building fronts had been damaged. One charred shoe was left in the street, near a pool of dried blood mixed with ashes on the pavement. A blackened bicycle also lay abandoned close to a truck hitched to a fuel tanker that may have fed the blaze.

In a message of condolence, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that “after running out of their pretexts of resisting the occupation,” the insurgents “have been targeting religious places, children, oil and water facilities and Iraqi soldiers.” Witnesses and police gave conflicting accounts of the bombing since many of those who were close by doubtless perished in the inferno. Most said a fuel tanker was moving slowly in the centre of the town when the blast occurred, but a tanker truck in the area was mostly intact Sunday.

Zeyd Mohammed, 25, said a tanker truck filled with fuel detonated as it approached the mosque.

“The truck was moving when the suicide attacker detonated himself. He was targeting the mosque,” Mohammed said.

Musayyib, on the Euphrates River, sits in the “triangle of death,” an area so-named because of the large number of kidnappings and killings of Shiite Muslims travelling between Baghdad and the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

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