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30 killed in pair of major attacks in Iraq
Updated: 2004-12-03 20:06

Insurgents launched two major attacks Friday against a Shiite mosque and a police station in Baghdad, killing 30 people, including at least 16 police officers, the deadliest insurgent attacks in weeks.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Sunni rebel group, al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The claim, which appeared on an Islamic Web site, could not immediately be verified.

Men carry a coffin outside Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital Friday Dec. 3, 2004,of a policeman who was one of at least 16 police officers killed in two major attacks launched by insurgents Friday against two police stations in Baghdad. [AP]

"The destructive effect that such operations has on the morale of the enemy inside and on its countries and people abroad is clear," the claim said.

The attacks occurred in the western Amil district and in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Azamiyah, where police said a car bomb exploded during a clash between Iraqi government security forces and armed rebels near a Shiite mosque called Hameed al-Najar. Witnesses said the mosque suffered some damage, including shattered windows.

Fourteen people were killed and 19 others were wounded, according to the Numan hospital. Azamiyah was a major center of support for Saddam Hussein.

Initial reports had suggested that the bomb targeted a nearby police station. However, if the mosque was in fact the target, it could have been a bid by the Sunnis to stoke civil strife in the area.

In the Amil attack, gunmen stormed a police station near the dangerous road to Baghdad International Airport, killing 16 policemen, looting weapons, releasing detainees and torching several cars, Police Capt. Mohammed al-Jumeili said. He said several policemen were wounded.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Hutton said the battle began when gunmen in 11 cars attacked the station with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. He said a U.S. military Humvee was also damaged. There were no American casualties.

Detainees being held at the station were also hurt, al-Jumeili said. There was no word on the insurgents' casualties.

The rebels had first shelled the station with mortars. Thick black smoke rose from the burning vehicles after the attack.

Meanwhile, two city councilmen from Khalis were ambushed and killed by gunmen Friday, officials said.

The two were driving from Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, to Baqouba, the capital of Diala province, to attend the regional meeting on the country's Jan. 30 elections, said deputy governor Ghassan al-Khadran. He said a third councilman was injured in the attack.

The claim from al-Zarqawi's group said 30 people were killed in the Amil attack and only two escaped. The group also claimed to have attacked two police patrols in the western Baghdad area of Nafq al-Shorta, killing everyone, but that could not be verified.

The attacks were the latest against Iraq's police and security services, which have been targeted throughout central, western and northern Iraq in recent weeks.

The U.S. Embassy on Thursday barred employees from the dangerous highway.

Also Thursday, insurgents killed an American soldier in the restive city of Mosul, and mortar strikes pummeled central Baghdad. Despite the violence, a top Iraqi official insisted the security situation had improved since U.S. forces scattered insurgents in the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah last month.

To provide security for the election, the U.S. government has announced it is raising troop strength in Iraq to its highest level of the war. The number of troops will climb from 138,000 now to about 150,000 by mid-January more than in the 2003 invasion.

While Iraq's Kurds and majority Shiites back the elections, Sunni groups have demanded a postponement because of the poor security. President Bush (news - web sites) dismissed those calls Thursday, insisting the elections must not be delayed.

"It's time for Iraqi citizens to go to the polls," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.

Lt. Col. Paul Hastings said Iraqi and U.S. forces discovered 14 unidentified bodies in Mosul on Thursday. He said there were also reports of five more bodies picked up by family members. That brings to at least 66 the number of bodies many of them believed members of the Iraqi security forces found there since Nov. 18.

Mosul's police force disintegrated during an insurgent uprising last month, forcing the U.S. command to divert troops from the offensive in Fallujah.

Also Thursday, attackers launched at least five mortars in central Baghdad, including two that crashed into the Green Zone, the compound that houses Iraq's interim administration and U.S. diplomatic missions.

U.S. senators visiting Iraq on Thursday said they were pleased with Bush's decision raising troop levels, but criticized him for not doing so earlier.

"We should have leveled with the American people in the beginning," Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), a Democrat from Delaware, told reporters. "It was absolutely inevitable" that more troops would be needed, he said.

The U.S. Embassy decision to ban its employees from using the highway to the airport followed a nearly identical warning Monday from Britain's Foreign Office. The embassy also cautioned Americans in Iraq to review their security situation and warned those planning to travel to Iraq to consider whether the trip was "absolutely necessary."

However, Qassim Dawoud, Iraq's national security adviser, said insurgent attacks were down since the invasion of Fallujah. He provided no details but said Iraq didn't need U.S.-led coalition forces' help to safeguard the election.

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