Attacks in Iraq rage as Saddam death looms

/ Source: NBC News and news services

As talk of Saddam Hussein’s impending execution swirled, attacks on Thursday killed at least 28 Iraqis, while the U.S. military announced the deaths of three American soldiers and a Marine.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber carrying two empty plastic containers joined a crowd of people lining up to buy kerosene near a stadium, said Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The attacker then detonated his explosive-laden belt, killing at least 10 people and injuring 20 others.

Two bombs also exploded opposite a park in the South Gate area of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 43, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Another blast targeted a police patrol in western Baghdad but missed, killing two civilians instead, police said. Four people were wounded.

Meanwhile, NBC News reported Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator, could be executed within the next 48 hours. The news came hours after his chief lawyer implored world leaders to prevent the United States from handing over the ousted leader to Iraqi authorities for execution, saying the former dictator should enjoy protection from his enemies as a “prisoner of war.”

Iraq’s highest court on Tuesday rejected Saddam’s appeal against his conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 Shiites in the northern city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

More violence ahead?
Saddam’s lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, warned that turning over Saddam to the Iraqis would increase the sectarian violence that already is tearing the country apart.

“If the American administration insists in handing the president to the Iraqis, it would commit a great strategic mistake which would lead to the escalation of the violence in Iraq and the eruption of a destructive civil war,” he said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there was concern about the potential for violence in carrying out the execution. “I’m sure the Iraqi government is thinking through that and working with the coalition in terms of the impact that could have,” he said.

In addition to the 28 Iraqi deaths, the U.S. military announced the deaths of three American soldiers and a Marine.

Gunmen wearing police uniforms attacked an army checkpoint in the city of Balad north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing three Iraqi troops and wounding eight people, authorities said. A bomb also killed an Iraqi soldier in a military vehicle near Qazaniya, close to the Iranian border, police said.

The U.S. military said a roadside bomb killed an American soldier and wounded another Thursday while they were on patrol north of Baghdad. Three soldiers also died from roadside bombs in the capital and a Marine was killed in western Anbar province on Wednesday, the military said.

With 100 American troops dead so far this month, December is the second-deadliest month of 2006 for U.S. military personnel. At least 105 troops died in October.

Kidnapped contractors believed to be alive
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy said it believes four American security contractors and an Austrian are still being held captive after being kidnapped in southern Iraq six weeks ago.

The men went missing Nov. 16 when a large convoy of trucks being escorted by their Crescent Security Group was hijacked on a highway near Safwan, a city on the border with Kuwait. Suspected militiamen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed the convoy, taking 14 hostages, including the five security guards, and nine truck drivers who were later released.

“At this time, U.S. officials believe the American citizens are still being held by their captors,” embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said, without elaborating.

A video of the kidnapped Americans reportedly surfaced this week, showing them to be alive and in good condition. The footage, reported by McClatchy Newspapers, was believed to have been made about a month ago. If authentic, it would be the first proof that all five men survived the ambush.