Baltimore Sun

Suspected insurgents escalate attacks in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In a marked escalation in attacks yesterday, suspected insurgents tried to shoot down a U.S. transport plane with a surface-to-air missile, killed an American soldier in a convoy and gunned down the mayor of an Iraqi city.

The U.S. military said one surface-to-air missile was fired on a C-130 transport as it landed at Baghdad International Airport. It was only the second known missile attack on a plane using the airport since Baghdad fell to U.S. forces on April 9, said Spc. Giovani Lorente. He said he did not know where the plane came from or whether it was carrying passengers, cargo or both.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Nayil al-Jurayfi, who had actively cooperated with U.S. forces as the new mayor of Hadithah, was killed when his car was ambushed by attackers firing automatic rifles as he drove away from his office in the city 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, police Capt. Khudhier Mohammed said. One of the mayor's sons also was killed.

Mohammed said the mayor, who took office after the fall of Hussein, was assassinated because he was "seizing cars" from Hussein loyalists who used to work in the deposed Iraqi leader's offices in Hadithah, a city in the restive "Sunni Triangle" that is home to many of Hussein's supporters.

The American soldier was killed and three others were injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack west of Baghdad near the Abu Ghraib prison, a U.S. military spokesman said.

In a separate attack, an Iraqi 8-year-old died when an assailant threw a grenade into a U.S. military vehicle guarding a bank in west Baghdad.

The American driver of the vehicle was wounded along with four Iraqi bystanders, said Army Maj. Kevin West.

"They're killing more Iraqis than they are Americans," West said, shaking his head.

U.S. soldiers have come under increasingly ferocious attacks by suspected Hussein loyalists in recent weeks - reaching an average of 12 attacks a day. Thirty-two U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1, the Pentagon said yesterday.

A total of 150 U.S. personnel have been killed in combat since the start of the Iraq war, the Pentagon said, exceeding the total killed in combat during the 1991 Persian Gulf war - 147.

One American was killed yesterday in an accident. The military said a Marine fell off the roof of a building he was guarding in the southern city of Hillah.

The Hadithah police captain, whose station is next to the mayor's office, told the Associated Press that some government employees received a leaflet yesterday warning them not to go to work.

The leaflet was signed "Liberating Iraq's Army." On Tuesday, a member of the previously unknown group went on Al-Arabiya TV and promised retribution against any country sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq. A letter addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that peacekeepers would be attacked even if they were sent under a U.N. mandate.

The Arab satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported that residents of Hadithah had accused the slain mayor of collaborating with coalition forces.

Hadithah shop owner Amir Jafar concurred, saying: "This mayor is an unwanted person. ... He doesn't belong to this city. He is from another city, and he was cooperating with the Americans."

The attack was certain to have a chilling effect on other Iraqi officials. Samir Shakir Mahmoud, one of the members of the new Governing Council hand-picked by Iraq's U.S. administrator, hails from Hadithah.

Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is running the Iraqi Interior Ministry and working to rebuild Iraq's police force, was asked if he thought Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was behind the attacks.

"Nobody is identified as al-Qaida yet. Could they be out there? It's possible. The bottom line is I don't care if they're al-Qaida, I don't care if they're Fedayeen. I don't care if they are Baathists, I don't care who they are. If they attack the coalition and they attack the police they're gong to be arrested or they're going to be killed," Kerik said.

Today is the anniversary of the 1968 Baathist coup that led 11 years later to Hussein taking power.

In yesterday's attack on the convoy, a rocket-propelled grenade blasted into the American soldier's truck, hurling him out, as the 20 vehicles passed along a main highway.

Sgt. Diego Baez, who escaped injury, wept over his comrade's death, saying: "We slept next to each other just last night. He was my best friend."