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Car bombs kill 24 in Baghdad ahead of crackdown

By Ross Colvin
Reuters
Monday, February 5, 2007; 5:23 PM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three car bombs killed 24 people and wounded scores in Baghdad on Monday as war-weary residents awaited the start of a sweeping U.S.-Iraqi crackdown on sectarian bloodletting in the city.

The U.S. military said a command center in Baghdad that will oversee the offensive would become operational in the next few days. U.S. officers had said on Sunday it would be activated on Monday and the operation would begin "soon thereafter."

In the worst blast on Monday, a car bomb targeting a petrol station in the religiously mixed southern neighborhood of Saidiya killed 10 people and wounded 62, while eight people were killed and 40 wounded when a car bomb exploded in a garage.

A car bomb exploded near a children's hospital in Andalus Square in central Baghdad, killing six and wounding nine.

The city is on edge as residents, exhausted by four years of war, look for signs the security sweep promised by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki early in January has begun.

The only unusual activity on Monday appeared to be in the southern Doura district, where a convoy of 12 U.S. Humvees and four Abrams tanks was seen heading into central Baghdad, but it was not immediately clear if it was related to the planned push.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said the Baghdad command center, to be headed by an Iraqi general, was manned but "not yet up and running." "It'll take a few days to get things organized," he said.

A U.S. general urged Iraqis on Sunday to be patient, saying it would take some time for additional Iraqi and U.S. forces to be deployed in the capital, epicenter of the sectarian violence.

Police said fighting erupted in Adhamiya on Monday after militants attacked the Sunni district in northern Baghdad. They gave no casualty figure, but 15 people were killed there in a mortar barrage on Sunday.

In Amil, a religiously mixed area of Baghdad, gunmen in police commando uniforms dragged people from their homes in Janabiyeen, a Sunni enclave that is home to members of the Janabiyeen tribe, and set at least five houses ablaze, witnesses said.

"I can see eight bodies, including an old man and two teenagers. No one can retrieve them because there are snipers on the roofs of some houses," said one resident.

He said the gunmen retreated when a U.S. force of Abrams tanks and Stryker vehicles arrived on the scene. Residents were warned by loudhailer that anyone seen with a gun would be shot.


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