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U.S. marine jets bomb two bridges in Iraq
Updated: 2005-09-06 19:54

U.S. Marine jets Tuesday attacked two bridges across the Euphrates River near the Syrian border to prevent insurgents from using them to move foreign fighters and munitions into major cities, the U.S. command said.

A Marine statement said U.S. and Iraqi forces also destroyed a "foreign fighter safe house," killed two foreigners and arrested three others during a raid Tuesday in the same area as the bridge attack.

The fighting occurred a day after U.N. chief Kofi Annan said Iraq had become an even greater terrorist center than the former Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Attacks attributed to al-Qaida's wing in Iraq have increased in the Baghdad area and western Iraq.

A Marine statement said F/A-18 jets dropped bombs shortly after midnight on two light bridges near Karabilah, about 185 miles west of Baghdad.

"The purpose of the strike was to prevent al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists from using the structures," the U.S. statement said. "The munitions used in the strike were designed to crater the bridges, rendering them inoperable but not destroying them."

The clash at the safe house occurred when U.S. and Iraqi troops came under fire "by foreign fighters" occupying the building, the Marines said.

"Multinational forces personnel returned fire and assaulted the building, suffering one friendly casualty when a Multinational Force soldier was wounded," the statement said without citing the soldier's nationality.

Troops called in aircraft to destroy the building "which was being used as an operational headquarters," the statement added.

Karabilah is one of a cluster of towns near the Syrian border, a major infiltration route for foreign fighters heading for Baghdad and other major cities. Iraqi officials say al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has taken over parts of the area after local residents fled fighting between tribes supporting and opposing the insurgents.

Annan, speaking to the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday, said many young Muslims are angry, and their anger has been exacerbated by what is happening in Iraq.

"They feel victimized in their own society; they feel victimized in the West. And they feel there's profiling against them," he said. "And the Iraqi situation has not helped matters."

Annan added: "One used to be worried about Afghanistan being the center of terrorist activities. My sense is that Iraq has become a major problem and in fact is worse than Afghanistan."

In statements posted on Islamic Web sites, al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for two attacks Monday ! a roadside bombing that killed two British soldiers west of Basra and a daring daylight assault against the Interior Ministry in Baghdad in which two policemen died.

Also Monday, U.S. Marines said that al-Qaida in Iraq launched multiple attacks on Sunday against U.S. and Iraqi targets in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad. Fifteen people ! including 11 civilians, an Iraqi soldier and three suicide bombers ! died in the Hit attacks

Elsewhere, Iraqi officials said that al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters had taken control of large areas of a strategic city on the Syrian border after weeks of fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the insurgents and one that opposes them.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said much of Qaim, 200 miles west of Baghdad, had been abandoned after weeks of tribal fighting.

U.S. Marines operate around Qaim but have privately complained they don't have enough American or Iraqi forces to secure the area properly.

The attacks in the Hit area began Sunday morning when two suicide car bombs exploded at security barricades on the northwest side of town, a Marine statement said.

Shortly afterward, a vehicle car bomb exploded on the Hit bridge across the Euphrates River, rendering it impassable, the Marines said.

The Marine statement said three insurgents and one Iraqi soldier died in the Sunday attacks. The government in Baghdad said eight civilians also died.

Also Monday, gunmen seized one of the sons of the governor of insurgent infested Anbar province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, officials said on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent reprisal. The abduction occurred in the provincial capital of Ramadi west of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped Iraq's new constitution, which goes to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15, would in time help pacify the insurgency by luring Sunni Arabs from the movement.

However, Sunni negotiators rejected the constitution and vowed to defeat it in the referendum. The bitter, protracted negotiations appeared to have raised tensions among the country's ethnic and religious communities.

About 1,500 people, mostly Sunnis, rallied Monday near the Sunni city of Ramadi to protest the draft charter.

Iraq's president said Monday he and the other top Kurdish leader had agreed to changes in the draft constitution to mollify concerns among Arab countries that the wording in the charter loosened Iraqi ties to the Arab world.

The language at issue describes Iraq as an Islamic ! but not Arab country ! a concession to the non-Arab Kurds who form about 15 percent of the Iraqi population.

In a statement released by his office, Jalal Talabani said he and Massood Barzani agreed "to accept some amendments deemed vital for the Islamic and Arab worlds concerning the Arab League because Iraq is a founding member in the Arab League."

Talabani did not specify what changes in the language had been agreed to by him and Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

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