Since Threat, Attacks on U.S. Troops Have Risen

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 21, 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept. 20 -- Attacks against U.S. troops have increased in the two weeks since al-Qaeda in Iraq's new leader urged insurgents to target American forces, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

Since the threat posted on the Internet on Sept. 7 by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, at least 23 servicemen have been killed, mostly by suicide car bombers or roadside bombs, according to U.S. military news releases.

The latest casualty came Wednesday when a U.S. soldier was killed by gunfire in northeastern Baghdad, according to the military, which also reported the death of a soldier in a roadside explosion Tuesday northeast of Baghdad.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq, insurgents and death squads have recently increased their attacks, with the primary area being focused in the Baghdad area," said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq.

Caldwell added that in the past week there had been "a spike in execution-style murders" of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and that "many bodies found had clear signs of being bound, tortured and executed." The violence, he said, is expected to increase during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which is scheduled to start next week.

Across the country, suicide bombings killed several dozen people and wounded scores over a 24-hour period, and a U.N. report released Wednesday found that the Iraqi death toll from violence in July and August rose by several hundred over the count for the previous two months.

Citing figures from morgues and the Iraqi Health Ministry, the report said the July total of 3,590 violent deaths was "unprecedented," while the August figure of 3,009 was still among the highest monthly totals ever. In comparison, there were 2,669 violent deaths in May and 3,149 in June, the report said.

"Terrorist attacks, the growth of militias, the emergence of organized crime reflects a lack of centralized and authorized control over the use of force in the country, which results in indiscriminate killings of civilians," the United Nations said in a statement. "In this context, hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution-style killing."

The report said corpses of people detained by factional militias or by Iraqi security forces in prisons run by the Interior and Defense ministries showed signs of beatings with electrical cables, broken bones and cigarette burns. Bodies at the morgue often "bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails," it said.

The U.S. military reported recently that murders halved in August from July but has not provided an explanation for this conclusion, stating only that the figures do not include deaths caused by bombings or other large-scale attacks.

In Shirgat, northeast of Mosul, dual blasts Tuesday night targeted a youth center near an Iraqi army base, killing 22 people, including 11 Iraqi soldiers, said Capt. Hasan al-Jubury of the Shirgat police.

"A large fireball rose up, and I could see human parts flying up in all directions," said Raad Hussein Hamdani, who was wounded in the legs and abdomen by shrapnel. "I and my friends rushed to the rescue. . . . Within a few seconds, the second explosion occurred and more people died or were wounded."

A car bomb detonated Wednesday in the town of Samarra, 65 miles north of Baghdad, in front of a house of tribesmen who opposed al-Qaeda in Iraq, killing 10 and wounding 38, police said.

In the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, a roadside bomb exploded at an intersection near the entrance of the Dora Refinery, targeting a bus transporting oil refinery employees. As police and bystanders rushed to help the wounded, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a nearby police checkpoint, killing nine people and injuring 18.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police patrols found 34 corpses, most of them of people who had been shot to death and dumped in various neighborhoods across Baghdad, said Brig. Abdullah Salem of the Interior Ministry. In the past week, more than 200 corpses, most of them showing signs of torture and execution, have turned up across Baghdad.

Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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