Iraqi officials said today that May’s increase in militant attacks has resulted in more Iraqis killed than the previous month. A suicide car bombing, the most popular method of killing in that same period, wounded 15 Iraqis at the main checkpoint to Baghdad’s International Airport.
The US military announced that American soldiers had captured a former Saddam Hussein regime spy on Monday, who was among least 113 terror suspects detained during US-Iraqi raids throughout Baghdad since Sunday.
In New York, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said US-led forces must remain in Iraq until the country’s own soldiers and police can take responsibility for securing the nation amid its continuing insurgency.
A massive Iraqi-led offensive has been launched in Baghdad, dubbed Operation Lightning, aimed at curbing the torrent of violence.
Defence Ministry spokesman Radhi Badir, who has been collating the figures of insurgents killed in Iraq, said more than 260 insurgents have been killed during May.
“The figure is more than 260, especially if you consider the 125 killed in Qaim and those killed in Haditha (during two US-led operations) and the many suicide bombings last month,” Badir said.
He was referring to two US military operations, dubbed Matador and New Market, in and around the western Iraqi cities of Qaim and Haditha last month aimed at rooting out insurgents allied to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The military said 125 insurgents were killed in Qaim and 14 in Haditha. US officials said there were at least 66 suicide bombers last month.
According to Health Ministry figures, there were 434 civilians killed in May, compared to 299 in April. Some 775 civilians were also wounded last month, compared with 598 in April, said Dr Sabah al-Araji at the health ministry. The figures were based on people’s identity cards and other documentation, he added.
An Interior Ministry official said that 151 police officers were killed in May compared to 86 in April, up 75%. At least 325 policemen were also wounded, compared with 131 in April.
A Defence Ministry official said 85 soldiers were killed in May compared to 40 in April. Another 79 soldiers were wounded, compared with 63 in April.
Many of the killings have come as a result of suicide bombings, with about 100 attacks being carried out in May.
Another suicide attacker struck early today, targeting the heavily guarded main checkpoint to Baghdad International Airport, which is located at the end of a 10-mile-long highway dubbed by many Iraqis the “Street of Death” because of the regularity of suicide bombings and ambushes along it.
The blast happened near the Abbas Ibn Firnas statue, commonly known as the “Flying Man,” which depicts a winged medieval Arab astronomer. The statue is located between two car parks.
“Me and some colleagues at Iraqi Airways were waiting in line when we saw a speeding car, then we heard a big explosion,” said Ghassan Yassin, who was among the 15 people wounded. “The next thing I realised is that my car was on fire, I got out thorough the window after the doors were jammed due to the explosion.”
“Terrorists attacked the entry point with small arms fire immediately after the explosion,” the US military said in a statement. No coalition forces were injured.
An internet statement purportedly released by the al Qaida in Iraq terror group claimed responsibility for the attack. The statement’s authenticity could not be verified.
The attack near the airport, which scores of foreigners use daily to enter and leave the war-ravaged country, highlights the difficulties US and Iraqi forces are having to defeat the insurgency and safeguard Iraqi’s most vital facilities.
US soldiers struck a blow against militants plotting attacks by capturing 113 suspected terrorists in a number of separate raids since Sunday. The detainees include a former spy in Saddam’s secret service, who was picked up on Monday in western Baghdad’s Ghazaliyah district, the military said in a statement.
The spy was not identified, but he was believed to be financing several terrorist groups plus working as a cameraman for a terrorist group, apparently filming attacks against coalition forces that are later posted on internet sites or distributed to media outlets.
Foreign extremists, many the government and US military say enter Iraq from neighbouring Syria, are thought to be a small portion of the Sunni-dominated insurgency, although they are blamed for some of the deadliest attacks.
US-led forces continued attacking foreign fighters near the Syrian border today, with helicopters destroying two buildings near Husaybah, 200 miles west of Baghdad, after ground troops came under small arms attack, the military said.
The military said there were casualties among the insurgents, but the number was unclear. Seven people were also detained.
Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, told the United Nations Security Council yesterday that he was “concerned” about US-led forces leaving before Iraqi security forces were ready to protect this country from insurgents.
“I’m a realist, OK, and we’ve seen that before. We need to complete this mission with their help,” Zebari said. “We are getting very close. The riding is getting tougher.”
The multi-national force has about 138,000 US troops and over 22,000 soldiers from 27 other countries.
Acting US Ambassador Anne Patterson, speaking on behalf of the multi-national force, said no “specific” withdrawal timetable has been set. She added that if Iraqi authorities want the force to stay, it shouldn’t leave “until the Iraqis can meet the serious security challenges they face.”
Australia’s mufti, Sheik Taj El Din al-Hilaly, returned to Baghdad today in a bid to secure the release of kidnapped Australian hostage Douglas Wood, 63, who was detained by an insurgent group called the called the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq about a month ago.
Wood, an engineer who lives in California, is believed to be alive and well, al-Hilaly has previously said. The mufti’s spokesman said on Sunday that Wood will not be released until fighting subsides around the area where he is being held.
More than 200 foreigners have been taken hostage since the war in Iraq began two years ago.