Insurgents Destroy 2 Bridges in Anbar

An explosives-laden truck destroyed a well-traveled land route that connects western Iraq to Jordan and Syria.
An explosives-laden truck destroyed a well-traveled land route that connects western Iraq to Jordan and Syria. (Associated Press)
By Uthman al-Mokhtar
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 18, 2009

RAMADI, Iraq, Oct. 17 -- Insurgents detonated a truck loaded with five tons of explosives Saturday on a bridge here that links western Iraq to Jordan and Syria, pulverizing part of the overpass and paralyzing traffic for hours.

Another, smaller bridge was also destroyed in Fallujah, where a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi military patrol on the highway, killing four soldiers and wounding 14 others, said Sulaiman al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for the Fallujah General Hospital.

The attacks underlined the potency that insurgents still wield in a long-restive Anbar province that the U.S. military and Iraqi government tout as a showcase of their success in defeating the insurgency. They come after numerous attacks that have led many Anbar residents to fear that fighting may worsen as the U.S. military withdraws, insurgents remain and tribal rivalries mount ahead of parliamentary elections in January.

Residents have blamed the attacks on al-Qaeda in Iraq, a homegrown insurgent group said to be led by foreigners, and fallout from months of negotiations over alliances for the January elections, particularly in Fallujah, which is in Anbar province.

In each case, the attacks seemed to suggest a certain sophistication. At the hospital, Lt. Hussein Jum'a said the roadside bomb in Fallujah weighed more than 40 pounds "and was planted on the side of the main highway by experienced hands."

The larger bridge that was destroyed spanned the Euphrates River in Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi. The insurgents were able to smuggle the explosives through checkpoints meant to control traffic in and out of the city. Fighters have targeted bridges in the past, particularly during the peak of the insurgency.

Col. Salih al-Dulaimi, the police commander in Ramadi, said the blast hurled chunks of concrete from the bridge into the river. The bridge itself is near the house of Ahmad Abu Risha, a tribal leader whose brother led a U.S.-backed militia that helped calm the insurgency before he was assassinated on Sept. 13, 2007.

Residents said the truck stopped on the middle of the bridge, then detonated. Police said the driver stayed in the vehicle and was killed.

"At first I thought an airplane had struck the bridge because the powerful explosion shook the entire area," said Jassem Khalifa, a 29-year-old witness. "I saw huge concrete blocks flying in the air before landing on the ground or into the Euphrates.

"If insurgents can possess five tons of explosives and use them freely to destroy bridges, then it would be a shame to claim that we have achieved security," he said.

Leaders of the U.S.-backed militia, known as Sons of Iraq, met in Ramadi on Saturday night to consider a response to the attacks of the past weeks.

"We are ready to take up arms again," said Hamid al-Hais, one of the leaders.

The bridge's destruction effectively severed the well-traveled land route between Iraq and Syria and Jordan, stranding hundreds of trucks on both sides of the river and forcing many to seek an alternative route along unpaved, dangerous roads. The U.S. military also uses the road to transport equipment out of the country.

On Oct. 11, three car bombings targeted a police station and a government headquarters in Ramadi, killing at least 25 people. A few days before that, a truck piled with explosives blew up in Amiriyah, about 10 miles south of Fallujah, killing nine people.

Correspondent Anthony Shadid contributed to this report from Baghdad.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company