Insurgents Blast Hole in Crucial Iraqi Bridge

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 2, 2007; 5:58 PM

BAGHDAD, June 2 -- Insurgents blasted a gaping hole in a major bridge on the main highway from Baghdad to northern Iraq on Saturday, part of a growing effort to target Iraq's infrastructure and immobilize its people.

Ever since a large chunk of the steel-beamed Sarafiya bridge splashed into the Tigris River in April, attackers have systematically targeted bridges in and around Baghdad. The tactic has further sealed off neighborhoods, blocked vital transportation links and in some cases worsened divisions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Concern about the attacks led the Iraqi government to prohibit oil tankers and other heavy trucks from crossing all but two of Baghdad's 13 bridges across the Tigris, worsening fuel shortages at a time when drivers must regularly wait hours for gas in lines hundreds of cars long.

"We are really tired of this kind of living," said Amer Abdul Razzaq, 46, the owner of an abandoned hotel and a looted carpet shop, who was visiting a friend near the foot of the Sinek bridge in Baghdad. "We cannot work, we cannot move from one side of the river to the other. These bridges are not military targets, they are affecting the people."

The explosion early Saturday on the Sarha bridge, one of the country's longest bridges, damaged a crucial link between Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk, as well as other cities in northern Iraq. Iraqi soldiers and police who responded to the explosion found other bombs in the area that had not detonated, said Col. Abbas Muhammad, the police chief of Tuz Kurhatu, a city near the bridge. Iraqi authorities arrested 15 suspects after the attack, he said.

A local tribal leader, Sheik Faiez Abdullah al-Hiyazi, said the area around the bridge in northern Salahuddin province is increasingly considered a training ground for al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters, who hole up in the rugged territory of the Himreen Mountains,which is rarely patrolled by Iraqi or American forces.

A U.S. military spokesman for northern Iraq, Maj. Tage Rainsford, said Iraqi security forces secured the bridge after the blast and no American or Iraqi casualties had been reported.

But the damage prevented travelers from crossing in an area where other alternate routes pass through more dangerous territory.

"They did not just close off the bridge, in fact, they are killing us and our families," said Abbas Hilmi, a taxi driver who works the road between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and was among hundreds of drivers blocked from passing over the Sarha bridge. "We depend on this road, and when we can not go out for work our families will die of hunger."

The most dramatic bridge attack occurred April 12, when a suicide truck bomber blasted a large portion of the historic Sarafiya bridge, sending it, along withseveral drivers, into the Tigris. The next month, three truck bombs exploded on three bridges, two of them in Baghdad and one north of the city, killing a total of 25 people. Insurgents then blew a hole in a highway overpass in western Baghdad on May 25.

"Bridges provide spectacular, headline-grabbing attacks to separate the people of Iraq from the government and the coalition and the institutions that are trying to protect and support them," saidLt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. "It also would appear that they are trying to divide the city along sectarian lines between the east and the west." The Tigris River runs north to south through Baghdad, separating the largely Shiite eastern side of the city fromtraditionally Sunni areas on the west.

Garver said most of the bridge attacks appear to be the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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