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US opens probe into Mosul base attack
Updated: 2004-12-24 21:48

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The brigadier general who investigated abuse at Abu Ghraib prison is heading the U.S. military's probe into how a suicide bomber infiltrated a U.S. Army base near Mosul and detonated a deadly explosion, authorities said Friday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talks during his visit to a U.S.Marines camp near the Iraqi town of Falluja, 50-km (30 miles) west of Baghdad,on a Christmas eve, December 24, 2004. [Reuters]
The team led by Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica started its work in Mosul as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise Christmas Eve visit to the wounded soldiers at the base, part of a tour that also took him to Tikrit and Fallujah.

"Now we have a pretty good idea that it was a suicide bomber," said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman at the Mosul base. "(Formica) is going to investigate into the how's how did that happen?"

Formica, an artillery commander, has already investigated detention practices by special forces in Iraq, including allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners linked to the Abu Ghraib abuses scandal.

"The investigation will be conducted quickly and thoroughly," Hastings added, however, there is no deadline set for the conclusions to come out.

The investigation into the Mosul blast comes as the military reassessed security at bases across Iraq in light of the bomber's success in apparently slipping into the camp and entering a tent crowded with soldiers eating lunch Tuesday.

The suicide bomber believed to have carried out the attack was probably wearing an Iraqi military uniform, the U.S. military said Thursday.

On Thursday, U.S. Marines fought with insurgents in Fallujah as warplanes and tanks bombarded guerrilla positions in the heaviest fighting there in weeks. The clashes raged as nearly 1,000 residents returned to the devastated city for the first time since U.S. troops drove out most of the militants last month.

At least three Marines were killed in combat in Fallujah on Thursday, underlining the tenuous security situation as the United States and its Iraqi allies try to bring quiet before national elections Jan. 30.

On Friday, some 4,000 more displaced citizens returned to inspect their devastated homes in Fallujah. Iraq's interim security minister Kassim Daoud said people were insisting on returning despite continuing clashes and unexploded ordinance on the streets. Much of the city remains uninhabitable.

American commanders have hailed the offensive to retake Fallujah as a major tactical victory. But pockets of insurgents remain in the city and many guerrillas apparently slipped out of Fallujah to operate elsewhere.

Thursday's combat was the heaviest around Fallujah since a surge of fighting Dec. 10 that killed seven Marines, three Iraqi soldiers and about 50 insurgents.

Returning the estimated 250,000 Fallujans is a key step in the attempt to restore the city as the elections approach. U.S. and Iraqi officials have organized a gradual return to prevent a hard-to-control flood of people at the same time troops are engaged in persistent clashes with insurgents.

Elsewhere, a lawyer for Tariq Aziz, a former senior aide for Saddam Hussein who has been in jail since April 2003, said Friday he had met his client.

Aziz, was among 12 defendants, including Saddam Hussein, who appeared before a judge to hear charges against them in July. He is expected to be interrogated by an investigative judge soon.

The first two top officials to be questioned an early phase in the trial process were Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali for his role in poison gas attacks against the Kurdish minority, and former Defense Minister Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad appeared Saturday at a preliminary hearing by investigative Judge Raad al-Juhyi.

With crucial elections set for Jan. 30, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has been pushing ahead quickly to launch trials for Saddam's inner circle.

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