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Four Car Bombings Kill 16 in Baghdad

Zarqawi Asserts Responsibility for Attacks

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page A18

BAGHDAD, Jan. 19 -- Four car bombs killed at least 16 people around the capital on Wednesday, and Iraq's most-wanted man asserted that his followers had carried out the attacks.

Six other people were killed Wednesday in attacks and assassinations across the country.

An Iraqi policeman secures the scene of a massive car bombing that killed two people near a building housing employees of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. (Ghaith Abdul-ahad -- Getty Images)

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Photo Gallery: Scenes from Wednesday morning's attacks throughout Baghdad.

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In statements posted on the Internet, Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has asserted responsibility for a string of assassinations and kidnappings, said the bombings were the work of "martyrdom squadrons" associated with his organization, al Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. military said 26 people were killed in 90 minutes of morning rush-hour violence, but Iraqi sources put the death toll at 16.

Some Iraqis said they viewed Wednesday's attacks as a preview of the sustained violence expected until Jan. 30, when national and provincial elections are to be held. Opponents of Iraq's U.S.-supported interim government have vowed to scuttle the elections by killing or intimidating voters and candidates.

"These attacks will increase until election day. Those people don't want us to live in peace," Hussam Abdul Khaliq, 23, said Wednesday morning outside a Baghdad hospital where he was looking for a neighbor wounded in one of the blasts.

The bombings in Baghdad, detonated the day before a major, multi-day Islamic holiday, "missed their intended targets," according to a U.S. military statement. But they caught Iraqis on their way to work, and the toll on civilians and police was grave.

Shortly after 7 a.m., the first blast raked a tall building in eastern Baghdad that houses employees of the Australian Embassy. Witnesses said two people on the street were killed, and two Australian soldiers reportedly were wounded at the building.

"The street was empty, and I noticed a truck -- the front part of a tractor-trailer truck, without the trailer -- coming very fast down Jadriyah Street," said Ahmad Hussein, 22, a gardener who arrived early to spruce up the gardens he tends for the holiday.

"I turned my head and heard the blast. It was the largest I've ever heard. It threw me against the wall," Hussein said. He said he looked back and saw pieces of the truck on fire, two bodies and two wounded people.

"I put a blanket on one of the bodies. He was a crazy old man who lived in the street," Hussein said. The other, a young street cleaner, died as Hussein's brother tried to get him to a hospital, Hussein said.

"It's getting worse, day by day," said Taha Salmon Hussein, 55, a taxi driver whose car windows were shattered and whose tires were flattened by the blast. The explosion blew out windows across a wide area, including those in a hotel and several nearby homes used by Western journalists.

About 25 minutes later, a gray station wagon approached concrete barriers near a police station in Baghdad's Alwiya neighborhood. Unable to get closer to the station, the driver blew up the vehicle near a sidewalk tea stand crowded with policemen.

Nine bodies were taken to the Ibn Nafiz hospital, and 16 people were wounded in the blast, according to hospital officials and a reporter's count at the morgue. Five of the dead were policemen. The windows were blown out of two hospitals adjacent to the blast, one of them a maternity hospital. No one was reported hurt in either facility.

"Is this the right place to do an attack against the police or army? There are two hospitals here!" wailed Leila Hassan, 38, who works in one of them.

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