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Archive for Saturday, June 26, 2004

U.S. again strikes suspected Iraq terrorist safe house

Leaders mull ‘stronger measures’ to combat insurgents

June 26, 2004

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— U.S. jets targeted terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pounding one of his suspected hideouts Friday in Fallujah in a strike U.S. officials said killed up to 25 people.

Iraqi leaders warned of more insurgent attacks after a wave of bloodshed blamed on al-Zarqawi, and said they were considering drastic measures to combat the violence -- including declaring martial law or a state of emergency in some areas.

"It's the people who want us to take stronger measures," said interim Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan. "We have to be patient. Building democracy requires patience."

Some influential Muslim clerics who had been sharply critical of the American occupation spoke out Friday against the bloody attacks of the previous day, which killed more than 100 people, most of them Iraqis. Three American soldiers were among the dead.

"What sort of religion condones the killing of a Muslim by another Muslim?" asked Sheik Abdul-Ghafour al-Samarai, of the influential Sunni group the Association of Muslim Scholars, during a sermon in Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque. "We must unite and be heedful of those who want to drive a wedge among us under the cover of Islam."

Sheik Ahmed Hassan al-Taha said at Baghdad's al-Azimiya mosque, Iraq's foremost Sunni place of worship, that "it makes me sad to see that all the victims yesterday were Iraqis."

The Friday airstrike was the third against al-Zarqawi's network in Fallujah in a week, and it came as U.S. tanks exchanged fire with militants on the outskirts of the city, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida-linked movement was behind highly coordinated assaults Thursday against police stations and other buildings in five cities. A claim of responsibility in al-Zarqawi's name was posted on an Islamic Web site.

"With God's help we will pursue these people and keep the Iraqi people safe," the defense minister, Shaalan, told reporters. "The time has come for a showdown."

U.S. and Iraqi authorities have long predicted that the insurgents would seek to derail the transfer of sovereignty, set for Wednesday.

Several strong explosions were heard early today in central Baghdad, but the origin was unclear.

Friday night, six mortar shells exploded near the Green Zone headquarters district of the U.S. occupation, the military reported. There were no reports of casualties. A bomb also went off outside the home of an Iraqi deputy defense minister, though no one was hurt, the military said.

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