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Four bombings kill 18 in northern Iraq
Updated: 2005-06-07 16:37

Four bomb attacks insde of seven minutes killed at least 18 people and wounded 39 in northern Iraq early Tuesday, a day after the government announced it has detained nearly 900 suspected militants in a two-week sweep in Baghdad.

A car bomb also exploded in northernwestern Baghdad Tuesday, wounding at least 28 people, said police Sgt. Bassem Mohammed.

The attacks in northern Iraq appeared coordinated and aimed at checkpoints manned by members of Iraq's fledgling army, which has been a constant target of insurgents opposed to the country's new U.S.-backed government.

The first explosion, caused by a roadside bomb, rocked Hawija, about 40 miles south of Kirkuk, at around 9:30 a.m., killing three civilians, Brig. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.

Three suicide car bombers then struck in quick succession, attacking in Bagara, Dibis and at the entrance to Hawija. Amin said three soldiers were killed in the Bagara bombing.

"The three car bombs attacks were coordinated because they happened almost at the same time and in the same way, where the drivers of the suicide cars waited in queues of traffic before reaching the checkpoints before exploding their cars next the soldiers," police Col. Ahmed Hammoud said.

A U.S. Marine died Monday from wounds sustained in a roadside bomb attack on his vehicle near Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday. As of Tuesday, at least 1,671 U.S. military members have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Almost 850 people have died in the violence since Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced April 28, but the carnage has been relatively subdued throughout the country, particularly in the capital, during the past three days.

Iraqi and U.S. officials say a high profile counterinsurgency offensive in Baghdad, dubbed Operation Lightning, may have reduced the number of attacks in the capital, where multiple suicide car bombings and drive-by shootings have become a sinister part of daily life.

The operation, which began May 22, is the biggest Iraqi-led offensive since Saddam Hussein's ouster two years ago. Before it began, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad's 23 entrances. Now all are under government control.

At least 887 arrests have been made during the operation, according to government figures, and 608 mobile and 194 permanent checkpoints have been established around Baghdad.

Sunni Arab Islamic extremists opposed to the new Shiite-led government and former Saddam Hussein loyalists, who lost their positions of power following the former dictator's ouster, are believed to be major players in the rampant insurgency.

Some Iraqi officials believe that the imminent trial of Saddam, perhaps within two months, may further lessen the violence.

Saddam, captured in December 2003, is facing about 14 cases ranging from gassing thousands of Kurds and suppressing a Shiite uprising to executing religious and political foes during his 23-year reign, according to a list obtained from Iraqi authorities.

The man who once ruled Iraq with an iron fist will likely take the stand behind a bulletproof glass dock in a custom-made courtroom, reportedly being built inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the base of Iraq's government and home to the U.S. Embassy.

Saddam's lawyers lashed out at Iraqi government plans to start the trial within two months and complained about a lack of access to Saddam and 11 other top members of his toppled regime, who are incarcerated in a U.S.-run facility near Baghdad airport.

Iraqis are desperate for Saddam's trial to start and, more importantly, to end, said Laith Kuba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. It would, he argued, close the door on an ugly period of Iraq's history.

"The prime minister has picked up many messages from the public, who are saying things like 'Why the delay in putting Saddam Hussein on trial?'" Kuba said. "He (al-Jaafari) has met with the judges and asked: Is there a delay in the process, and where are we on the process?"

If held within two months, the trial would begin in the middle of another milestone in Iraq's post-Saddam reconstruction the final stages of drafting a new constitution. The charter must be completed by Aug. 15 and approved in a referendum two months later.

The impact of both events taking place simultaneously remains unclear, but they guarantee intense international attention and could further increase tensions in this volatile country.

In Jordan, Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, criticized Iraq' government for speeding up the trial. "A fair and just trial needs a period of no less than a year to review all the papers, which are said to weigh 36 tons," he said.

Al-Duleimi also warned the government about publicizing the charges his client will face. "If Saddam was charged in the absence of his lawyer, this is a violation of Geneva Conventions and international agreements," he said.

Al-Duleimi last visited Saddam on April 27 and said the former dictator was unaware of the 14 broad cases. Despite his solitary detention, Saddam remains in "high spirits," the lawyer added.

Last week, chief trial judge Raid Juhi said Saddam "suffered a collapse in his morale because he understands the extent of the charges against him."

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