Vol. 4 Num 319 Thu. April 22, 2004  
Front Page

Suicide bombers kill 68 in Basra
Dominican Republic to pull out from Iraq; S Korean sends more troops; Thai senate votes for keeping soldiers there

Suicide bombers killed at least 68 people, some of them children, in co-ordinated strikes on four police stations that inflicted bloody chaos on Iraq's southern city of Basra yesterday, officials said.

Basra mayor Wael Abdul-Hafeez accused Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network of being behind the morning rush-hour blasts, Reuters reports.

Near-simultaneous explosions hit three police stations in Basra and one in the town of Zubair, 25 kilometres south of the mainly Shia city, the British military said.

"All four attacks seem to have been carried out by suicide bombers," said a British Defence Ministry spokeswoman in Basra.

Hafeez told a news conference 68 people, not including the bombers, had been killed and 99 wounded. Among the dead were children going to school in a minibus that was incinerated in one of the car bombings.

Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority, which in Basra is British-led, vowed to pursue those behind "these despicable attacks" and urged Iraqis to "isolate those who use violence to try to disrupt the

restoration of Iraqi sovereignty."

The U.S.-led occupation is due to end on June 30 with the formal transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

A wounded Iraqi, Amin Dinar, said he had heard a huge explosion as he stood at the door of his house.

"I looked around and saw my leg bleeding and my neighbour lying dead on the floor, torn apart," he said from his hospital bed. "I saw a minibus full of children on fire."

The mayor, speaking at Basra police headquarters, said police had recovered the remains of one bearded bomber.

"I accuse al Qaeda," the mayor said. "We have arrested a person disguised in a police uniform. We are questioning him."

U.S. officials have blamed al Qaeda or its affiliates for some of the violence sweeping Iraq.

Interior Minister Samir Sumaidy said the Basra attacks were similar to devastating suicide attacks in the Shia holy city of Kerbala and the Kurdish capital Arbil earlier this year. But he told a news conference it was too early to assign blame.

Witnesses at hospitals said 200 civilians and police had been wounded. Reuters counted 55 bodies at one hospital. A morgue attendant said 39 bodies had been identified and at least 16 others were burned beyond recognition.

A British military spokesman said three vehicles had exploded at Basra police stations at about 7:15 a.m. British officials said the Zubair blast killed three Iraqis and wounded four British soldiers, two seriously.

The explosions sowed panic across Basra, which had been relatively peaceful during this month's surge of violence in other parts of central and southern Iraq.

The Dominican Republic decided Tuesday to withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq in the wake of Spain's decision to pull out, Defence Secretary General Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez said while South Korea is sending more troops.

"The armed forces' troops in Iraq will leave in a few days, in the next week," the general said after talks with President Hipolito Mejia. They had originally been scheduled to leave in July.

The Dominican troops were attached to a Spanish-led brigade that is being withdrawn from Iraq. Honduras, which has 368 troops in the same brigade, announced Monday that they would also be withdrawn.

Mejia Sunday told new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the Dominican troops would leave when their mission ends in July, but reversed himself after speaking with Honduran President Ricardo Maduro.

Thailand's senate voted to maintain the kingdom's 451 troops in Iraq despite mounting danger and the announced withdrawal of at least three countries from the US-led coalition, a senator said.

In another development, a group of 330 South Korean military engineers and medics left for Iraq yesterday in a troop rotation to replace colleagues already conducting relief work in the war-torn country, officials said.

Another 330 non-combatant troops will be sent to the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah next week, the defense ministry said.

In Falluja, west of Baghdad, fighting violated a fragile truce just hours after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested the cease-fire in the Sunni city would not last.

Six civilians were killed and 10 wounded in clashes between Marines and rebels that erupted at dawn, residents said.

"Thugs and assassins and former Saddam henchmen will not be allowed to carve out portions of that city and to oppose peace and freedom," Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

Dozens of families who had fled earlier fighting queued on the edge of Falluja Wednesday waiting to be allowed home. The truce deal stipulates that 50 families may return each day.

Marines at the desert roadblock initially turned people back, but let some through as the fighting died down.

North of Baghdad, U.S.-backed Iraqi soldiers killed four insurgents and seized three explosive-laden cars in a raid overnight, said Iraqi Major-General Anwar Amin in Kirkuk.

Canada said one of its citizens had been kidnapped in Iraq -- the latest in a spate of hostage-taking this month that has snared foreign civilians from more than a dozen countries.

People remove a dead body from the site of an explosion in the southern Iraqi city of Basra yesterday. Sixty-eight people were killed in almost simultaneous attacks on three police stations. PHOTO: AFP