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Mortar Strike Kills 3 on Baghdad Street

U.S. Marine Slain in Anbar Province

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page A18

BAGHDAD, Dec. 9 -- Insurgents attacked U.S. convoys in restive western Iraq and fired mortar shells into a busy street near the Italian Embassy in Baghdad on Thursday, killing three people, U.S. military officials and residents said.

The first mortar round crashed into the neighborhood of Waziriya at 9:50 a.m. About a minute later, four more landed, damaging shops along a commercial thoroughfare. Mutasher Farhan Abdullah, whose shop is across the street, said three people were killed, including an elderly man who died as he sat in a wheelchair on the sidewalk.

A grieving woman holds the bloodied shirt of her brother, who was killed when a mortar shell landed outside their house in Baghdad. Several rounds also landed near the Italian Embassy, but apparently caused no damage. (Ceerwan Aziz -- Reuters)

"They didn't have any connections with the Americans or with the Iraqi government," said Abdullah, 36, as he stood outside his furniture store. "Is this resistance? They take money from abroad and use it to kill innocent people."

The embassy apparently was not damaged.

[A U.S. Marine was killed by insurgents Thursday in the volatile Anbar province, the Reuters news agency reported. The Marines did not release any other details about the attack because to do so, they said, could put other troops at risk.]

Insurgents have focused their attacks on Baghdad and the regions north and west of the capital. In Ramadi, a city west of Fallujah along the Euphrates River and about 60 miles west of Baghdad, insurgents attacked two U.S. convoys with small-arms fire, said 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert, a Marine spokesman. He said there were no reports of U.S. casualties. The Associated Press, quoting hospital officials, said four Iraqis were killed and three were wounded.

"Life is normal in Ramadi if there are no Americans," said Lt. Baraa Mohammed of the Iraqi police. "But when the Americans enter, the clashes start. The resistance goes out to face them immediately, just like a swarm of bees."

U.S. military officials say insurgent attacks in the Baghdad area have declined slightly in the past week, a pattern that could simply signify a calm before a surge in violence expected around the national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

A flurry of car bombings, roadside mine blasts and gunfire in November has given way to more sporadic attacks this month, some of which appeared to be aimed at civilians involved with the election. A schoolteacher who works at a designated polling site in Baghdad was kidnapped this week, and three election workers were killed by insurgents two days ago in the Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, officials said.

The election, Iraq's first in more than a generation, will choose a 275-member parliament that will appoint a government and draft a constitution. On Thursday, an alliance backed by Iraq's most influential religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, formally announced an electoral slate that was agreed on earlier in the week.

The United Iraqi Alliance is made up of 23 parties and will run 228 candidates, the group announced at a news conference. The list includes independent Sunni Muslims and at least token representation of minority Kurds, Turkmens, Christians and Yazidis, but it will be overwhelmingly dominated by Shiite Muslims, the majority group in Iraq.

Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear scientist assigned by Sistani to help craft the list, has said that candidates loyal to a militant cleric, Moqtada Sadr, will also take part, although neither Sadr nor his clerical lieutenants will be on the list.

"The Sadr people have repeatedly said and announced that they support" the Shiite religious leadership, Shahristani said at the news conference. "They support our slate."

Sadr's movement has kept its position on the election ambivalent, stopping short of urging a boycott but refraining from a formal endorsement of the alliance.

Given Sistani's authority, the list is poised to dominate the election in a country where Shiites make up an estimated 60 percent of the population. But it also could highlight ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Special correspondent Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and staff writer Josh White at Camp Liberty contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company