Bombs aimed at Iraqi forces kill 24 people
Car bombs targeting Iraqi security forces killed at least 24 people on Friday, immediately putting the new government under pressure to tackle an insurgency that shows no sign of weakening.
Eighty-nine people, mostly police and National Guardsmen, were also wounded, police said, a day after a cabinet was formed following three months of post-election wrangling.
A tape purporting to come from al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called for more suicide attacks on U.S. forces and vowed not to let President Bush enjoy "peace of mind," according to a Web posting.
Hours after four bombs killed at least 13 people in the Aadhamiya district of the capital, insurgents struck in the New Baghdad area, killing two people with the increasingly common tactic of following one strike with another.
After a first car bomb hit a National Guard convoy, police gathered at the scene were struck by a second car bomb.
In a pattern of violence that has raised concerns over sectarian tensions, insurgents also struck in the town of Madaen, where police say tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings between Shi'ites and Sunnis have been on the increase.
Three car bombings killed at least nine Iraqi soldiers and wounded 35 in attacks near a checkpoint, at a hospital and at the post office in the town south of Baghdad, police said.
In the relatively tranquil Kurdish city of Arbil, insurgents also blew up a bomb disposal expert and a civilian as they were trying to defuse a roadside bomb, police said.
The bloodshed illustrated the security challenge facing Iraq's first democratically elected government in more than 50 years, formed on Thursday after three months of political stalemate that had crippled efforts to tackle violence.
The 275-seat parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a devout Shi'ite Muslim, ending a power vacuum that had dissipated optimism created by Jan. 30 election.
But Jaafari failed to name permanent ministers to five key portfolios, including oil and defense, and a top Sunni Muslim official criticized the new government as sectarian. Two deputy prime minister posts are also left vacant in the cabinet.
Iraq's new leaders said the government reflected its ethnic and sectarian diversity, a theme politicians frequently stressed in a country where Shi'ites and Kurds are the new powers and Sunnis, who dominated under Saddam Hussein, have been sidelined.
Iraqi officials accuse the Jordanian Sunni Muslim militant Zarqawi of mounting suicide bombings designed to spark civil war.
Officials believe capturing Zarqawi, who has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, would weaken the insurgency. But he remains elusive, despite frequent U.S. and Iraqi government claims that forces have been hot on his trail.
The latest tape posted on the Web appeared to have been recorded last month. In it the speaker identifies himself as Zarqawi and says jihad is still going strong two years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"WHY ARE THEY KILLING US?"
The four car bombs in Baghdad shook the Aadhamiya district, where insurgents are active. One struck a restaurant crowded with security force personnel eating breakfast, police said.
Explosions gutted shops, destroyed cars and left pools of blood in the street.
"Why are they killing innocent Iraqis? Why are they trying to set Sunnis and Shi'ites apart?" asked onlooker Adnan Aziz Salman, inspecting the destruction of one of the car bombs.
"They should go and kill our occupiers. We don't care who our leaders are. We just want security."
Reuters Television footage showed Iraqi police vehicles and U.S. Humvees gathered at one of the bombings in Baghdad. Minutes later a second car bomb exploded nearby.
Many Iraqis are hoping that their security forces and police will improve their skills and take charge of security so that some 150,000 U.S. troops can leave the country.
But as the car bombs in Baghdad showed, Iraqi forces can barely protect themselves against the guerrillas, who have killed more than 300 of their comrades in the past six weeks.
President Bush, who phoned Jaafari to congratulate him on forming the government, said progress was being made in Iraq despite the insurgency but declined to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
"I don't think it's wise for me to set out a timetable. All that will do is cause an enemy to adjust," Bush said.
A U.S. soldier was killed and four others were wounded in a bomb attack in northern Iraq on Thursday, the U.S. military said.
The attack occurred in Hawija, about 120 miles north of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. That raised to 1,199 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.