By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
BAGHDAD, May 23 -- Bombings targeting U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite Arab civilians at worship, at lunch, at home and on the road killed more than 50 people across Iraq on Monday, officials said, heightening sectarian tensions and taking the death toll past 600 since a new government was installed less than a month ago.
Iraq's Shiite-led administration, meanwhile, tried to portray itself as taking control of security. Iraqi television aired extended broadcasts of the trial of three accused insurgents facing the death penalty, and a new music video introduced on state TV featured Abul Waleed, commander of a feared police commando unit, saying: "We will cut off the arms" of terrorists.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of five American troops Sunday -- three killed in two attacks in Mosul and a fourth killed in a car bombing in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Another soldier died in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk, the military said.
Monday's violence followed a lull in bombings that lasted several days and the first significant overtures this weekend by Sunni Arab leaders to end a Sunni boycott of politics that had lasted more than two years.
Iraq's disgruntled Sunni minority, which long dominated the country's political and military leadership but was ousted from power along with Saddam Hussein in early 2003, has been at the forefront of the insurgency. Americans and Iraqis have hoped that drawing Sunnis into the new political process would quell the violence, but the issue remains unresolved. Insurgent attacks have intensified since the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari took office at the end of April.
In the deadliest of Monday's attacks, two bombings killed 30 people in the volatile northern town of Tall Afar, hospital officials said.
The first bomb exploded late Monday outside the home of a Shiite tribal leader, according to an emergency room director who identified himself only as Haidar and a hospital director who said his name was Saleh. A second bomb exploded as crowds gathered to help the wounded from the first blast, the medical officials said. The second bomb claimed most of the victims.
Another car bomb exploded late Monday outside a Shiite mosque at Mahmudiyah, about 15 miles south of Baghdad. The attack killed at least 10 people and injured 30, the Associated Press quoted hospital officials as saying.
At lunchtime, a car bomb exploded outside a cafe frequented by workers in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of north Baghdad, killing at least five people, hospital officials said.
The bomb was detonated by remote control, police said. While the intended targets appeared to have been police who also gather at the cafe, witnesses said the victims were civilians.
"I swear to God, I will not enter any restaurant if I see any policemen sitting there," laborer Saleem Nima said in a street littered with metal shards and body parts. Shopkeepers were already sweeping up shattered glass.
"There is no safe place in Baghdad, not even your bedroom," Nima said.
Insurgents "are cowards," said Nabeel Hassan, another laborer. "They cannot face these men man-to-man, so they show us how brave they are by killing these poor men who run all day to feed their families.''
In Tuz Khormato, south of the northern city of Kirkuk, explosives loaded into a pickup truck detonated, killing five people outside a city council office, said police Lt. Gen. Sarhat Qader, according to the Associated Press. A mortar round hit a house in Kirkuk, killing two people, police told the AP.
The day's violence began with gunmen killing a national security official, Maj. Gen. Wael Rubaei, as he drove to work in Baghdad. His driver also was killed. Officials of the new government and security forces have been frequent targets of assassination.
U.S. and Iraqi troops detained about 300 people in what a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, called the largest combined operation by the two countries' forces to date. The overnight sweeps targeted neighborhoods around the U.S.-run prison at Abu Ghraib and near the road to Baghdad's main airport. Both areas have been the scene of repeated insurgent attacks.
Jafari's government took to the airwaves to show that it was fighting back against insurgents.
State TV aired nearly an hour of videotape from a capital murder trial in the southern city of Kut at which three alleged members of the Ansar al-Sunna insurgent group were sentenced to death for killing at least three policemen. Spectators in the courtroom held up photographs of the men's alleged victims. The stooped, scarved mother of one of those killed asked the court to convict and execute the accused. The proceedings took place Sunday.
The three men are the first suspected insurgents to face the death penalty since Hussein fell. Many Iraqi leaders have been adamant about retaining the death penalty to ensure that Hussein would be executed if convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a trial expected this year.
A government-made music video on state TV showed one of Iraq's most feared police units in action, catching insurgents, digging up arms caches and patrolling the streets. Sunni leaders accuse the unit, the Wolf Brigade, of torture and summary killings of Sunni clerics and others.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, were expected to elect a commission Tuesday to start drafting a new constitution, which is the Jafari government's most important mandate. Lawmakers in the 275-seat National Assembly are to choose between a Shiite and a Kurd to chair the commission. Shiite politicians have insisted that a Shiite be picked.
Special correspondents Dlovan Brwari in Mosul and Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad contributed to this report.