Insurgents kill 60 in string of Iraq attacks

A STRING of bombings in Iraqi cities - including one by a man with explosives strapped to his body - killed more than 60 people and wounded more than 100 yesterday.

This occured as US troops pushed on in an offensive aimed at followers of Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist.

This week’s offensive came amid a surge of deadly attacks after Iraq’s first democratically elected government was announced on April 28. Insurgents are averaging about 70 attacks a day this month, up from 30 to 40 in February and March, said Lt Col Steven Boylan, a spokesperson for US forces in Iraq.

In Hawija, 241 kilometres north of Baghdad, a man with hidden explosives slipped past security guards protecting a police and army recruitment centre yesterday and blew himself up just outside the building where some 150 applicants were lined up. At least 30 people were killed and 35 injured, police said.

“I was standing near the centre and all of a sudden it turned into a scene of dead bodies and pools of blood,” police Sgt Khalaf Abbas said by mobile phone from the chaotic scene. “Windows were blown out in nearby houses, leaving the street covered with glass.”

In Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 129 kilometres north of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb exploded in a small market near a police station, killing at least 27 people and wounding 75, police and hospital officials said. The attacker swerved into a crowd after heavy security prevented him from reaching the police station, police said.

The Sunni militants Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for the attack in a website posting yesterday. But it denied the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and said it was aimed at Iraqis who work in the US base in Tikrit.

Four more car bombs exploded in Baghdad, three of them suicide attacks, the US military said. One of them caused an unspecified number of casualties in a US patrol, it said.

Iraqi police confirmed three attacks targeting a police station and patrols in Baghdad. Four Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded, they said.

Another bomb exploded at Iraq’s largest fertiliser plant in Basra, setting fire to a gas pipeline and destroying about 60% of the plant. One person was killed and 23 wounded in the blast.

Iraq’s new interior minister Bayan Baqir Jabr said committees of police and military officials had been formed to implement a plan to protect Iraqi cities.

Operation Matador entered its fourth day with US Marines continuing combat operations near the Syrian border.

The offensive was launched after US intelligence showed that followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taken refuge in the desert border region -believed to be a haven for smugglers and foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria. Many of the insurgents were believed to have fled to remote parts of Anbar province after losses in Fallujah and Ramadi.

As many as 100 insurgents were killed in the first 48 hours of the offensive as US troops cleared villages along the Euphrates River. Many of the dead remained trapped under rubble after attack planes and helicopter gunships pounded hideouts.

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