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The Conflict in Iraq

Militants Leave a Bloody Trail Across Nation

An official is killed, two foreigners are captured, and civilians die in car bombings and shooting attacks. An Egyptian hostage is freed.

July 27, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — A spate of kidnappings, car bombings and attacks on government officials reverberated across Iraq on Monday, raising the question of how much more bloodshed the country can tolerate as its interim government tries to build stability and prepare for elections.

Militants took two more foreign truck drivers hostage, and two other foreigners -- a driver and an engineer who disappeared over the weekend -- were declared hostages. Car bombs exploded in Mosul and Baghdad, and killings and other attacks shook Basra and Baqubah as well as the capital.

The different types of targets and tactics suggested that the attacks were carried out by several insurgent groups.

"Who knows who does these attacks? I don't know," said Hachim Hassani, the minister of industry and minerals, whose Baghdad office was attacked by mortar fire Monday morning. The three shells missed their target, but with each round the attackers appeared to be adjusting their aim to hit the building, Hassani said.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government announced that captors had freed Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, the third-ranking diplomat at the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad. Qutb was captured as he left a Baghdad mosque after prayers Friday. It was the first known kidnapping of a diplomat in Iraq; militants have abducted dozens of foreign workers and U.S. contractors.

Monday's attacks preceded a conference scheduled this week to pick an Interim National Assembly.

The security risks for the conference are so high that its exact dates have yet to be announced.

The hostages seized Monday were two Jordanian truck drivers who were kidnapped by a group calling itself the Mujahedin Corps. In a video obtained by Associated Press Television News, the hostages were shown seated on the floor while six masked militants, holding a variety of weapons including a sword, stood behind them.

The Jordanians were identified as Fayez Saad Udwan and Ahmed Salama Hassan. They said they were being treated well and begged their employer to meet the kidnappers' demands. Hassan called on all Arabs and Muslims "not to deal with the Americans and to aid the militants." Udwan said in the video that he was "regretful" that he chose to work for the company in Iraq.

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq announced Monday that it had kidnapped two Pakistanis -- an engineer and a driver -- as well as an Iraqi contract driver. In a video broadcast on Al Jazeera satellite television, the group said it had sentenced the captives to death because Pakistan was discussing sending troops to Iraq. It did not say when they would be killed.

In Basra, a southern Iraqi city where British troops lead the multinational forces, a group of men opened fire on five female employees of a British company based at the airport, killing two of them.

The women were in a minibus on their way to work when a white pickup stopped them. Two men armed with pistols jumped out and put a gun to the driver's neck, said a witness, Ihsan Adil, 25.

The men opened fire, killing the two women and seriously injuring two others. The fifth woman dropped to the floor and pretended to be dead.

Rasmiya Khalik, who was shot in the head and neck, was in critical condition, said her sister Amal Khalil Ibrahim. The other injured woman's condition was described as stable.

Gunmen killed an Interior Ministry official, Musab Awadi, as he left his house in the violent Bayaa neighborhood of southern Baghdad. Awadi, who was the assistant director for tribal affairs, worked with local police on security operations in tribal areas. His guard and a driver were seriously injured in the attack, and one later died, a senior Interior Ministry source said.

The slaying came a day after the killing of another Interior Ministry official, in the town of Latifiya, a hot spot for violence at the southern tip of the so-called Sunni Triangle, just south of Baghdad.

In Baqubah, in the turbulent province of Diyala northeast of Baghdad, assailants tried Monday to assassinate the head of the provincial border and customs service, Brig. Gen. Nadium Sharif Hamad. A day earlier, he survived an assassination attempt that killed one of his bodyguards.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide car bomb exploded about 50 feet from the main gate of the airport southwest of the city.

The blast killed the driver as well as an Iraqi bystander, a child and a member of the Iraqi Facilities Protection Service, which guards government installations.

The car, a maroon Chevrolet Caprice, was packed with explosives, including a 122-millimeter rocket and a 60-millimeter mortar shell that did not detonate in the explosion, the American military in Mosul said.

The blast wounded three U.S. soldiers and two members of the protection service.

A car bomb also exploded in Baghdad early Monday, but it caused no injuries.

Special correspondents Uthman Ghanim in Basra, Faris Mahdawi in Diyala and Roaa Ahmed in Mosul contributed to this report.

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