Car bombings kill 18, wound scores in Iraq


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four car bombs exploded about the same time yesterday morning in the northern city of Hawija, killing 18 people and wounding 39, while a car bomb in Baghdad injured 28, officials said.

Meanwhile, to help quell the insurgency, a Sunni politician said he is prepared to bring two insurgent groups to talks with Iraqi leaders about possibly ending their roles in the violence.

The two insurgent groups are interested in participating in the new government, said Aiham Alsammarae, a former Iraqi electricity minister.

The car bombings punctured a lull in suicide attacks over the past several days while Iraqi security forces swept the capital for insurgents.

In other news, Iraq's government backed away from an announcement that former dictator Saddam Hussein would be tried within two months.

Laith Kuba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said, "A fixed date has not been presented."

Housing and Reconstruction Minister Jassim Mohammed Jaafar made an international appeal to foreign investors yesterday to help Iraq out of its housing crisis, in which 3 million residential units are needed to accommodate Iraqis displaced by more than two years of conflict.

Jaafar said relatively secure areas exist in Iraq that would provide some stability for investors. Those areas tend to be in far southern Iraq, the stronghold of the Shiite-dominated government.

In Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to scour for insurgents. The 2-week-old offensive, one of more than 30 U.S. operations being conducted independently of, or combined with, Iraqi forces, has led to the discovery of nine weapons caches and the detention of 73 known or suspected terrorists, the military said.

In Hawija, three of the car bombs apparently targeted checkpoints manned by Iraqi security forces, who are being encouraged by U.S. commanders to take over the role of providing security in their country.

Among those killed in Hawija were four Iraqi soldiers, said Sgt. 1st Class David Rhodes, a spokesman for the Army's 42nd Infantry Division.

The northern attacks demonstrated that while 40,000 Iraqi forces were setting up checkpoints and arresting more than 800 suspected rebels in Baghdad and the southern Triangle of Death, insurgents relocated their campaign to another part of the country - a trend that U.S. officials have often acknowledged.

Hawija is about 40 miles south of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and tensions in the region have been high as Kurds have sought to wrest control from Arabs who have dominated the area for decades under Hussein.

In violence elsewhere, two Marines died Monday in roadside bombings near Fallujah, and a U.S. soldier died Sunday from noncombat injuries at Camp Dublin near Baghdad International Airport, the military said. Their names were not released.

Jaafar, the minister in charge of housing and rebuilding roads and bridges, said the new Iraqi government has begun building only a few housing projects. Those few projects fall drastically short of the millions of residential units that Iraqis need.

While Iraq has received U.S. aid for rebuilding roads and bridges, no U.S. funds have been allocated for housing, Jaafar said.

"I think foreign investment is the only solution to the housing problem in Iraq," Jaafar said.

A recent United Nations Development Programme survey of living conditions in Iraq showed that 25 percent of rural homes in northern Iraq suffered damage from military activity during the past 20 years. Countrywide, an average of 5 percent of urban homes and 3 percent of rural households endured damages from military actions, the U.N. report said.

On the streets of Baghdad, many Iraqis have taken to squatting in former government offices, which Jaafar conceded is a problem. Jaafar added that the government intends to give the squatters priority when new housing becomes available.

Sadiq Turky, 38, a taxi driver, lives in a former detention facility that used to belong to Hussein's secret police. Earlier in the day, he visited a children's hospital, which he said was in as poor a condition as his illicit housing, which doesn't have electricity.

"They can't even rehabilitate a hospital, so how can they offer us houses?" Turky asked. "Do you know there are 11 families living in this small building? We wish to leave here one day and live in a real house that we own."

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