Friday, November 18, 2005

Report #20 on the Era of Peace

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From the Globe and Mail

Scores Killed in Iraq Suicide Attacks


Friday, November 18, 2005 Posted at 10:58 AM EST

Associated Press

Baghdad — Suicide bombers killed at least 74 worshippers at two Shia mosques near the Iranian border Friday while in Baghdad two car bombs destroyed the blast wall protecting a hotel housing international journalists and killed eight Iraqis.

The suicide attackers targeted the Sheik Murad mosque and the Khaniqin Grand Mosque in Khanaqin, 145 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, as dozens of people were attending Friday prayers, police said. Seventy-five people were wounded in addition to the 65 killed, the police command said.

The blasts near the Hamra hotel in Baghdad knocked down the concrete walls protecting the hotel and blew out windows but did no structural damage to the hotel. They brought down several other buildings, however, and left a large crater in the road. Firefighters and U.S. troops joined residents in digging through the debris for possible victims.

The attack would be the against a hotel housing international journalists since the Oct. 24 triple vehicle bomb attack against the Palestine Hotel, where the Associated Press, Fox News and other organizations live and work.

“What we have here appears to be two suicide car bombs (that) attempted to breach the security wall in the vicinity of the hotel complex, and I think the target was the Hamra Hotel,” U.S. Brigadier-General Karl Horst told reporters at the scene.

Gunfire followed the blasts, which came less than a minute apart and echoed throughout downtown Baghdad.

Saad al-Ezi, an Iraqi journalist with The Boston Globe, was inside the hotel.

“They were trying to penetrate by displacing the blast barriers behind the hotel and then get to the hotel,” he said. “I woke up to a huge explosion which broke all the glass and displaced all the window and doors frames.”

At first the target appeared to be an Interior Ministry building where U.S. troops on Sunday found about 170 detainees, some of whom appeared to have been tortured.

“The investigation is under way, but the initial reports indicate so far [that] the first car bomber was trying to pave the way for the second one, not on the main road, but on a secondary road to get in and hit the Hamra hotel, not the interior ministry,” said Maj.-Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister.

The United Nations' top rights official on Friday called for an international investigation into the conditions of detainees in Iraq.

“In light of the apparently systemic nature and magnitude of that problem, and the importance of public confidence in any inquiry, I urge authorities to consider calling for an international inquiry,” said Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Prominent Sunni Arabs have complained for months about abuse by Interior Ministry forces, which they say have been infiltrated by Shia militias. The Sunnis called for an international investigation after the Jadriyah detainees were found.

The government denies the militia allegations.

“I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture,” said Interior Minister Bayn Jabr, a Shiite. “No one was beheaded, no one was killed” – a clear reference to the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages by insurgents including al-Qaeda's Iraq wing.

He also said “those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations” about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.

In a statement Thursday, the U.S. embassy said Iraqi authorities had given assurances that they will investigate the conditions of detainees found Sunday night and that the abuse of prisoners “will not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government” or U.S.-led forces anywhere in the country.

Also on Friday, insurgents attacked U.S. and Iraqi troops in western Iraq, setting off gun battles that left 32 insurgents dead, a U.S. military statement said.

Most of the fighting took place around the a mosque in the centre of the town.

“Marines reported that they received sustained small arms fire originating from the mosque,” the statement said. “A nearby U.S. Army outpost also reported receiving enemy fire from the area surrounding the mosque.”


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