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Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Four Marines killed in action; Iraq declares war on rebels
By Carol J. Williams
The attacks, aimed at undermining Iraq's new government, spurred interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his supporters to declare war against the guerrillas, who also have sabotaged pipelines and electricity-generating plants.
Recent attacks on the country's economic infrastructure have slashed vital oil-export revenue and deprived Iraqi households of power to run fans and air conditioners in the suffocating 120-degree afternoon heat.
Borrowing a tactic from the insurgents, five masked men of unknown political alliance who called themselves the Salvation Movement appeared on Al Arabiya satellite television threatening to hunt down and kill Jordanian fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi unless he and his supporters leave the country. Al-Zarqawi, who the U.S. claims is associated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network, has claimed responsibility for abductions and beheadings of foreign workers in Iraq.
"The criminal al-Zarqawi and his henchmen must leave Iraq immediately," said one of the masked men, seated at a table in front of four other armed men, one shouldering a rocket launcher. "Islam has nothing to do with this criminal. ... We swear to Allah we will capture him and his followers and kill them as a gift to our people."
But the group in the videotape emerged from nowhere, raising questions about its origin and authenticity. The group demanding Zarqawi's departure mimicked the footage aired on Arabic-language TV stations by insurgent forces.
The multinational force, as the troops of the former U.S.-led occupation coalition are now called, reported that four Marines were killed in action yesterday in Al Anbar province in western Iraq, which includes the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Three other Marines were killed in the province Monday.
In Khalis, a town near Baqouba, another insurgent hotbed in the Sunni Triangle near the capital, a car bomb exploded at a memorial for the father of Mayor Uday Alkhadran, the intended target of an assassination attempt Monday that killed the older man.
Guerrillas have been targeting local officials and police throughout Iraq because they are seen as collaborators with Americans. Yesterday, gunmen also shot to death Sheik Sabah Naji, a member of the Baghdad municipal council from the Adhamiyah neighborhood. Allawi lashed out at insurgents in a formal declaration in which he vowed to defeat those sabotaging national resources and public utilities.
"Evil forces are continuing to inflict damage on the people of Iraq," the prime minister stated. "Not only are they killing our innocent Iraqi civilians, they are also inflicting significant damage to Iraq's economy."
Noting two attacks on Iraq's main oil-exporting pipeline have cut deeply into the flow of crude as well as the country's ability to generate electrical power, Allawi said Iraq's security forces are "capable and persistent on bringing these cowardly criminals to justice."
Yesterday, Allawi said the new Iraqi government provided intelligence that helped the U.S. military target a suspected safe house for al-Zarqawi's forces in Fallujah.
Iraqi security forces gave U.S. commanders the house's location and other information that led to Monday's air strike, which killed at least 15 people. It was the fifth air strike in less than a month on targets in Fallujah and the first since the U.S. occupation handed formal political power to Allawi's government on June 28. Residents of Fallujah insist the majority of those killed in the strikes have been civilians.
Although the new government is trying to turn public opinion against al-Zarqawi and other militants, it risks a backlash by taking joint responsibility for U.S. air strikes. While many Iraqis are appalled by the militants' terrorist bombings, most believe U.S. raids kill Iraqi civilians.
U.S. military officials acknowledged that a child was killed and another child wounded Monday night when soldiers opened fire on a car that had failed to stop at a checkpoint in Baghdad.
Allawi was unapologetic about civilian casualties: "This operation was launched to terminate these terrorists, whose vehicle bombs and suicide vests indiscriminately kill innocent Iraqis, and destroy Iraqi schools, hospitals and police stations.
"The people of Iraq will not tolerate terrorist groups or those who collaborate with any other foreign fighters such as the Zarqawi network to continue their wicked ways."
Al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian, but a U.S. defense official confirmed a USA Today report yesterday that only 90 of the more than 5,700 people in custody in Iraq as security risks are foreign fighters, suggesting the Bush administration might have overstated the role of outside militants in the deadly insurgency.
Allawi has moved quickly in his first week in office to show Iraqis that the government is dedicated to restoring security and reconciling the country.
The government is expected to announce today emergency measures that can be invoked to crack down on insurgents, including curfews and broader police powers of search and seizure. Information from The Associated Press, Newsday and Knight Ridder Newspapers is included in this report.
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