Insurgents believed to be allied to Abu Musab Zarqawi's group al Qaeda in Iraq kept up bombings in the capital on Thursday, launching strikes that brought the two-day death toll here to more than 190.
The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, said the surge in bombings represented the kind of occasional spikes in attacks that the military has been expecting. Lynch told reporters, "Zarqawi is on the ropes.''
Three car bombs in a western neighborhood of the capital killed four Iraqi postal workers and 17 police commandos, police and Interior Ministry officials said. Iraqi and U.S. leaders have identified the commandos as Iraq's front line against the insurgency.
Meanwhile, one policeman was killed in a gun battle with insurgents and another officer was found handcuffed and shot in the head, news agencies said. The bodies of seven unidentified men were found in spots around the capital, blindfolded with their hands tied.
Insurgents also managed to land a single mortar round inside the Green Zone, the base for U.S. officials and Iraq's government. There were no casualties and only minimal damage, U.S. officials said.
A day earlier, at least 14 car bombs across Baghdad killed more than 160 people, the majority of them Shiite Muslim civilians -- the war's highest toll for deaths inflicted by insurgent attacks in the capital.
An audiotape released on an al Qaeda-linked Web site after Wednesday's attacks said Zarqawi's group had opened "all-out war'' on Iraq's Shiite majority. The voice sounded the same as that heard in previous, authenticated statements from Zarqawi's group.
Alleged al Qaeda attacks on Thursday also hit the city of Ramadi, capital of the western province of Anbar, a stronghold of foreign-led fighters. Witnesses said al Qaeda-allied fighters rocketed and shelled two U.S. military installations at Ramadi and traded fire with U.S. patrols in the city.
The U.S. military reported one Marine killed in the fighting at Ramadi and said a would-be car bomber also was killed. Iraqi emergency medical workers said Marine snipers killed six al Qaeda fighters.
The two-day barrage of attacks attributed to al Qaeda in Iraq, and the increasing control of towns in the west along the Euphrates River being asserted by foreign-led insurgents, intensified the U.S. military's focus on Zarqawi.
American commanders often have publicly denigrated Zarqawi's role in the insurgency to little more than that of a media-fostered figurehead. On Thursday, however, Lynch discussed Zarqawi in some of the sharpest terms yet, calling him the Americans' main target and saying the United States was winning the fight against him.
"We believe we are experiencing great success against the most crucial element of the insurgency, which is the terrorists and the foreign fighters. The face of that is Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq,'' Lynch said.
"We've got great intelligence which tells us where he's moving to and where he's trying to establish safe havens. As soon as we see him trying to establish a safe haven, we will conduct operations," such as the one still underway against northwestern insurgent strongholds in Tall Afar, Lynch said. "We're using all assets under our control in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces to find him and kill him."
Asked why he believed U.S. forces and their allies were succeeding in the fight against insurgents, Lynch pointed to accomplishments in Tall Afar and two other recent or ongoing operations in the west and northwest: 371 suspected insurgents killed and 1,163 detained.
Killings by insurgents, however, also have mounted fairly steadily since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's transitional government was named on April 28. The insurgents' use of increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs and land mines helped make August the third-deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops, with corresponding increases this summer in deaths among Iraqi civilians and security forces.
Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi told reporters Thursday that the stepped-up Baghdad bombings were insurgent retaliation for the Iraqi military's leading role in the operation at Tall Afar. "We tell the terrorists, we will never be weak or inattentive. We will chase you wherever you are, in the cities, villages," Dulaimi said. "I think what is happening is the last breath of the terrorists.''
[On Friday morning, gunmen killed two day laborers and injured 13 in an attack in the New Baghdad district of the Iraqi capital, police said, according to the Reuters news agency. The laborers were waiting to be hired for a day's work.]
In other violence Thursday, bombs and ambushes killed a total of four policemen in the cities of Baqubah, Samarra and Kirkuk, all north of Baghdad. In southern Iraq, police told news agencies they had found the body of Mahdi Attar, a prominent Shiite cleric. Attar and three associates had been shot or stabbed to death.
Sectarian tensions have multiplied in Iraq in recent months, encouraged in part by insurgents with the avowed intent of provoking civil war. Shiite religious ceremonies have been frequent targets of attacks, and many Shiites fear attacks this weekend, coinciding with their annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, in southern Iraq.
Also Thursday, a Western official familiar with arrangements for Saddam Hussein's trial by an Iraqi tribunal, scheduled for Oct. 19, said he expected the former president to be tried in connection with a variety of crimes, including the destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages and the disappearance and killing of their inhabitants in the 1980s. Authorities so far have announced charges in only one, smaller event, the killing of 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against Hussein in their town.
U.S. forces also released video Thursday from the Sept. 7 rescue of American contractor Roy Hallums, kidnapped from his office in Baghdad 10 months earlier. The video showed what looked to be a narrow, dark cave covered by steel bars, and a wasted but happy Hallums talking to U.S. soldiers immediately after his release.
The cage was in a hole under a farmhouse, and a rug and freezer were placed on the hatch over the hole to conceal it, said Lynch, the military spokesman. U.S. forces had detained someone they believed had information about Hallums's whereabouts and used the detainee to pinpoint the location, Lynch said.
In Najaf, south of Baghdad, police announced the recovery of 150 relics stolen from Iraq's national museums and the site of ancient Babylon, describing some as monuments that required trucks to move. Police arrested four Iraqi suspects. A fifth suspect, an Iranian, escaped, local border police commander Hussein Awais Ghazal said. Illegal trafficking of relics from Iraq's 5,000-year history erupted with the looting accompanying the U.S. invasion and collapse of Hussein's security forces.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.