General assassinated as wave of attacks kill 21 Iraqis

MILITANTS assassinated a general and a colonel and a car bomb exploded near a busy market in Baghdad yesterday, part of a wave of attacks that killed at least 21 Iraqis and wounded more than 70, authorities said.

The latest violence comes despite a major US offensive aimed at followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, in a remote desert region near the Syrian border said to be a staging ground for some of the deadliest attacks.

Two US Marines were killed and 14 wounded when a bomb hit their troop transport vehicle during the offensive on Wednesday. At least five marines and as many as 100 insurgents have been killed in Operation Matador, which entered its fifth day yesterday.

Insurgent violence has killed more than 400 people in two weeks, underscoring how intense the fight for Iraq's future has become in the three months since Iraqis voted in the country's first democratic election - and more than two years since the US declared the end of major combat.

Four car bombs, including at least two suicide attacks, struck in Baghdad yesterday, US military said.

In the worst attack, an explosives-rigged car detonated near a market and cinema in the eastern New Baghdad neighbourhood, killing 17 Iraqis and wounding 65, including women and children, police said.

An enraged crowd turned its anger on security forces and journalists, beating at least two Iraqi photographers and throwing stones at Iraqi police and US forces. Police and US troops fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

A suicide car bomber targeted a US convoy on a road in western Baghdad, injuring two civilians, said police.

Elsewhere in the capital, insurgents shot and killed Brigadier General Iyad Imad Mahdi as he drove to work at the Ministry of Defence and Colonel Fadhil Mohammed Mobarak on his way to the Interior Ministry, where he headed its police control room, police said.

Two more car bombs exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, police said. One blast happened near a police station in a central residential area, killing two people and wounding two, said police.

The other car bomb detonated at a site where experts were dismantling an improvised explosive device found by residents in the street, said police. Two of the explosives experts were wounded in the blast, which also destroyed nearby vehicles.

Yesterday's attacks followed a wave of bombings and gunfire that killed at least 69 people and wounded more than 160 yesterday.

Near the Syrian border, hundreds of US troops rolled through desert outposts, searching for Zarqawi followers in the region.

In Qaim, the border town about 200 miles west of Baghdad where the assault began on Saturday, a US Assault Amphibian Vehicle struck an explosive device in Qaim, the US military said. Two marines were killed and 14 wounded, he said.

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