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29 die in insurgent ambush of Iraq police
Updated: 2004-12-29 21:34

Insurgents lured police to a house in west Baghdad with an anonymous tip about a rebel hideout, then set off explosives, killing at least 29 people and wounding 18 in the latest in a series of deadly strikes against Iraqi security forces, police said Wednesday.

An Iraqi man mourns after losing two of his cousins in an overnight blast in western Baghdad, December 29, 2004.  [Reuters]
The explosion late Tuesday erupted from inside the house in the capital's Ghazaliya district as officers were about to enter, a local police official said. Ten neighboring houses collapsed from the blast and several residents were believed trapped under the rubble. Seven policemen were among the 29 dead.

The police official said the attack was "evidently an ambush" and that "massive amounts of explosives" were used. He said the explosion was apparently triggered by remote control.

The U.S. military said Wednesday that 1,700 to 1,800 pounds of explosives appear to have been used. It added that American soldiers and Iraqi troops "worked together through the night to pull potential survivors from the rubble."

Car bombs, ambushes and assassinations killed a total of at least 54 people in the Iraqi capital and across the volatile Sunni Triangle on Tuesday, including 31 policemen and a deputy provincial governor.

The attacks ! including one in which 12 policemen had their throats slit ! were the latest by insurgents targeting Iraqis working with the American military or the U.S.-backed government ahead of the Jan. 30 national elections.

Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division that controls Baghdad, said the violence is expected to escalate before the ballot.

"We anticipate that the enemy will (continue with) attacks, intimidation, assassinations and other messages designed to destroy life in Baghdad," Hammond said, adding that Iraqi security forces will bear the brunt of providing security for the elections and that U.S. troops will back them up only if needed.

Iraqi leaders said the guerrillas ! who are mostly Sunni Muslims ! are bent on triggering ethnic strife before next month's poll.

"The terrorists intend to destroy Iraq's national unity," a statement issued by the Interim National Assembly said. "Their intentions are to harm this country which faces crucial challenges amid a very difficult period."

Shiite Muslims, who make up around 60 percent of Iraq's people, have been strong supporters of the elections, which they expect to reverse the longtime domination of Iraq's Sunni minority. The insurgency is believed to draw most of its support from Sunnis, who provided much of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party membership.

Also on Wednesday, a Defense Ministry spokesman in Baghdad confirmed that the Iraqi National Guard ! a paramilitary internal security force that has borne the brunt of the anti-insurgency effort ! will be merged with the regular armed forces.

The national guard is also part of Iraq's Defense Ministry, and U.S. planners had intended it to be the main security force in the country. Several units took part in U.S.-led campaigns to retake the cities of Samarra and Fallujah from the rebels. But with the war escalating and combat losses mounting, the move is an apparent effort to improve the efficiency of the security forces ahead of elections.

The guards raided several houses Wednesday in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Azamiya and detained 25 insurgents, many of them with weapons and explosives, the Iraqi government said in a statement.

It added that in other raids in Mahmoudiya, a town about 25 miles south of the capital, national guard forces detained 25 insurgents including Syrian citizens. The statement said that an Egyptian citizen, who was identified as Salah, was captured in Baghdad's central Karrada neighborhood. He was in possession of explosives and terrorist propaganda leaflets, the statement said.

In the southern province of Babil, police officials said 20 members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam al-Madhi Army militia were detained on suspicion of having a role in planting explosives and carrying out attacks on police stations in the region.

The U.S. military said in a statement Wednesday that the Iraqi security guards repelled three separate attacks by insurgents who tried to seize two police stations in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. The U.S. troops detained 18 suspected insurgents during separate operations, the statement said.

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