June 9, 2004

Rebels Launch an Array of Attacks Across Iraq


New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 9 — Insurgents staged attacks on American forces and their allies on several fronts today, firing mortars at Iraqi militiamen west of here, setting two critical oil pipelines in the north ablaze and ambushing a military convoy in the capital.

In the holy city of Najaf, in the south, fighters loyal to the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr moved to seize a police station tonight despite a declared cease-fire, the second such attack in two days.

Today, the cleric's militia, the Mahdi Army, still controlled the holiest Shiite site in Iraq, the golden-domed Shrine of Ali. An aide to Mr. Sadr asserted that officials linked to the militia would have the right to take part in future elections despite a recent order from the American administration saying otherwise.

The various assaults underscored the fact that the United States was still engaged in a wide-ranging war, one that American officials say will likely get worse as the White House tries to return some measure of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution on Tuesday that recognizes the sovereign status of Iraq after June 30. Whether the approval will dampen the insurgents' resolve is one of the biggest questions confronting Iraqis and Americans. With the spate of attacks on Wednesday, the insurgents gave the impression that for the moment they were determined to carry on the fight.

The attacks on the pipelines came after an assault on fuel and transmission lines that forced the shutdown last weekend of an enormous power plant south of Baghdad. The continuing sabotage of infrastructure shows that fighters are cannily picking targets that deliver basic goods and whose destruction can quickly wreck Iraqi confidence in the occupation and the new government.

An occupation spokesman said that one of the pipeline explosions resulted in a temporary drop in power output from an electricity plant in the northern town of Bayji.

An attack on Iraqi forces allied with the Americans took place in the area of the volatile town of Falluja, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. Insurgents lobbed mortars at a camp housing members of the Falluja Brigade, which was created by the Marines in late April to try to pacify the virulently anti-American city. The attack wounded a brigade member, a spokesman for the occupation forces, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said.

The 2,000-strong brigade is itself composed partly of guerrilla fighters who were fighting the Marines and is led by Gen. Muhammad Latif, a former Baath Party member who fell out of favor with Saddam Hussein. The attack on the brigade highlighted the complex fractures among various insurgent groups in the Falluja area, which has essentially become a safe haven for anti-American forces since the Marines relinquished control. Foreign civilians still get shot at and taken hostage in the area, while marines are killed regularly by roadside bombs.

The Marines appeared to be conducting an operation at Falluja today. They used concrete barriers to block off two roads leading to the city from Baghdad. Tanks, Humvees and other armored vehicles were seen parked or driving around pastures on the side of the main highway just outside Falluja.

A wooden sign by the barrier on the highway said in Arabic: "No entry into the city."

In Najaf, 120 miles south of Baghdad, many members of the Mahdi Army appeared to have hidden their weapons in order to show compliance with a cease-fire announced on June 4 by the governor of the region. Iraqi police officers were patrolling parts of Najaf and the adjoining city of Kufa, where Mr. Sadr's support is strongest. But militiamen still maintained a perimeter around the Shrine of Ali, dedicated to the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

Ahmad Shaibani, an aide to Mr. Sadr, said in an interview that it was not the right of the occupation forces or the Iraqi police to decide who would control the shrines. "Holy shrines were excluded from the agreement," he said.

He added that in regard to the shrine issue, Mr. Sadr will answer only to the marjaiyah, the most senior ayatollahs in Iraq.

Mr. Shaibani also said that L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator for Iraq, had no power to bar any Iraqi from participating in upcoming general elections. Earlier this week, Mr. Bremer signed an order saying members or leaders of illegal militias would not be able to run for office in the near future. That would presumably bar Mr. Sadr from campaigning.

Mr. Bremer "has no right to determine the nature of the elections and whether militias have the right to participate or not, especially since his authority will end as per the U.N. Security Council resolution," Mr. Shaibani said.

Members of the Mahdi Army attacked the Ghari police station in Najaf late Monday, but failed to seize it, said Adnan Zurfi, the American-installed governor. He added that he had ordered more police forces to the area and had given permission to fire on any attackers. Tonight, insurgents attacked a different police station, but officers were reported to be repelling them.

The inability of the American military to disband insurgents so far in both Falluja and the Najaf area highlights the difficulties the occupation has had in dealing with the country's various militias. Many fighters in Najaf appeared to have put away their weapons for now, but Mr. Sadr still remains in power and could mobilize his army at any time.

"The true solution should be to disarm the militias completely and not just settle for hiding them," said Abu Muhammad al-Jazaeri, 40, a schoolteacher living in Najaf. "The Iraqi police is incompetent. We can see that because they have not been able to control the shrine."

Sabah Mahdi, a manager in a hotel in the city, said that "the whole process is disappointing" because "Mahdi Army fighters are still here, and their weapons are still here despite the latest agreement."

In northern Iraq, insurgents staged an attack in the early morning on a pipeline connecting the oil fields of Kirkuk to the large refinery and power plant in the town of Bayji, a spokesman for the Oil Ministry, Asam Jihad, said. Insurgents also set ablaze an export pipeline leading from Kirkuk to a Turkish port city. The fire was still raging on this afternoon, and video footage showed thick clouds of black smoke filling the sky.

In northeastern Baghdad, gunmen raked an American military convoy, setting one truck ablaze, according to Agence France-Presse. There was no immediate report of casualties.

The American military said today that gunmen killed two bodyguards of a local politician in Baghdad on Tuesday and seriously wounded the politician.

A deputy defense minister in Poland said that six Eastern European soldiers serving under the Polish command south of Baghdad were killed on Tuesday by at least one enemy mortar round hitting a munitions dump. The soldiers were involved in an operation to defuse mines.

In Geneva, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said the organization had resumed visits to Abu Ghraib prison, Reuters reported. The spokeswoman, Antonella Notari, said the initial return took place between May 30 and June 3 and that the group had been given full access. Well before the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib became public, the American military had tried to place severe restrictions on visits by the Red Cross.

The group issued a report last year criticizing the military for its treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and said some procedures were "tantamount to torture."

Jim Glanz contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Falluja and Najaf.