A wave of bombings and shootings swept Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 59 people and raising fears that al-Qaida had launched a promised new offensive during the Islamic holy moth of Ramadan. The U.S. military acknowledged that violence was on the upswing and blamed it on the terror movement.
Also Wednesday came the announcement that Iraqi and American troops raided the Iraqi military academy the day before and arrested cadets and instructors allegedly linked to the kidnap-slaying of the former superintendent and the abduction of his replacement, who was later freed.
Police reported at least six car bombings around the country Wednesday, an increase over the pattern of attacks in recent weeks, though U.S. officials insisted that violence was still below levels of last year.
Wednesday’s deadliest attack occurred when a suicide driver detonated an explosives-laden truck close to the home of a Sunni Arab tribal leader near Sinjar, 240 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Sinjar hospital director Kifah Mohammed said 10 people were killed and nine wounded, including the sheik. The sheik’s son, who worked as a government contractor, was killed, the director said. The U.S. military said the sheik had spoken out against al-Qaida.
Disputed death tolls
Six civilians were killed and 28 were wounded when a pair of car bombs exploded in an outdoor market in Baghdad’s southwestern district of Baiyaa, police said. Shiite militias have driven thousands of Sunnis from Baiyaa this year.
The private National Iraqi News Agency quoted an unidentified police official as saying 32 people were killed in the blast, but officers at two nearby police stations disputed the figure.
In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb struck a court building under construction, killing three people and wounding about 30, police said.
Three civilians died when a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in Mosul, police Brig. Gen. Saeed Ahmed al-Jubouri said.
In the south, a bomb exploded near the main gate of a Sunni mosque in the town of Abu al-Khaseeb, about 12 miles south of Basra, killing five worshippers and wounding 10 others, police reported.
The blast may have been in retaliation for a suicide bombing the day before against the police headquarters in Basra, an attack that killed three policemen and wounded 20 other people. Nearly all the Basra police are Shiites.
Senior police officers killed
In Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a car carrying two senior police officers — Maj. Gen. Ayad Jassim Mohammed and Col. Imad Kadim — in the Qadisiyah district, killing both of them, police said.
A Shiite adviser to the Iraqi parliament, Thamir Abid Ali Hassoun, was gunned down in eastern Baghdad when assailants blocked an alley near his home and sprayed his car with bullets, police said.
The other victims were either found dead in Baghdad and Kut or died in bombings and shootings in Tikrit, Basra and Diyala province, where U.S. troops have been battling al-Qaida militants.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. command announced that an American soldier had been killed the day before by small-arms fire in eastern Baghdad.
Suicide attack prevented?
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced its troops had prevented a suicide attack Tuesday by two bomb-laden trucks against a dam on Lake Tharthar. It said the trucks were driven by Afghans. There have been persistent reports that al-Qaida might target dams to flood Baghdad and other cities.
In a Web posting Sept. 15, the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, announced a new offensive for the ongoing Islamic holy month of Ramadan in memory of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed last year in a U.S. airstrike.
The statement said the Islamic State would hunt down tribal sheiks and officials who cooperate with the Americans. Nine days later, a suicide bomber struck a Shiite-Sunni reconciliation meeting in Baqouba, killing 24 people, including the city police chief.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, deputy interior minister, said security officials had warned the Iraqi government a few days ago “that there is a new plan by terrorist groups to target senior governmental officials. He said the threat came from al-Qaida and supporters of the late President Saddam Hussein.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner acknowledged Wednesday that “we have seen an upturn in levels of violence in the last few days” and said the military would step up efforts “to keep pressure on extremist networks.”
“This is a specific period of time ... that the insurgents will try to increase the levels of violence,” he said, referring to Ramadan.
Raid on military academy
Bergner confirmed the raid on the Iraqi military academy at Rustamiyah, saying it was carried out by Iraqi soldiers with American advisers. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said those detained faced charges of murder, kidnapping and corruption.
“These suspects were criminal gangs, not militiamen, working for their own interests by using their posts in the Defense Ministry,” al-Askari said.
Iraqi military officials said the six-hour raid started at 10 a.m. Tuesday and was carried out by a special unit under exclusive American command. Scores of cadets and instructors were detained, officials said, giving no figures.
A Defense Ministry official said the suspects were linked to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, and were believed part of a network smuggling weapons from Iran. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Al-Maliki speaks at U.N.
At the United Nations, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned the General Assembly that instability in Iraq would bring “disastrous consequences” to the Middle East and the world.
Al-Maliki said his country had reduced sectarian killings and brought stability to some regions, such as Anbar province in the west. He said thousands of displaced families have been able to return home.
However, an official of the International Organization for Migration told reporters in Geneva that an estimated 60,000 Iraqis were fleeing their homes every month to escape sectarian violence, intimidation and economic deprivation.
Displacement “has not decreased since the surge,” said the official, Dana Graber Ladek. She was referring to the increase of more than 28,000 American troopers which President Bush ordered this year.