Iraqis threaten suicide attacks as fighting grips Karbala
* US and Bulgarian soldiers killed, 10 injured in Karbala, Samarra
* UK considers replacing Spaniards in Iraq g Brahimi says Iraq govt can be formed by June 30
KARBALA: Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr on Friday threatened the US-led coalition with suicide attacks if it launched offensives on Iraq’s holy cities, as the occupation forces were locked in deadly clashes with Shiite Muslim militiamen in Karbala.
A Sunni Muslim leader also warned of an uprising if US forces launched fresh attacks on the flashpoint city of Fallujah, where US commanders have warned rebels they have only days to surrender heavy weapons under a ceasefire.
In a Friday prayer sermon, Sadr said his supporters would “resort to suicide operations” as at almost the same time his Mehdi army militia attacked a Bulgarian troop convoy in Karbala and sparked a clash that left 10 people wounded, officials said.
Amid the worst violence since last year’s invasion, the US administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer went on television on Friday to try to rally the country behind US plans for its future. He announced the disbanded army of former dictator Saddam Hussein would be largely reformed to counter the country’s security crisis amid coalition disquiet over the performance of new US-trained security forces.
“The (interim) minister of defence informs me that he intends to have a meeting with vetted senior officers from the former regime next week to discuss how best to build the new Iraqi military establishment,” Bremer said. “More of these officers with honourable records — from the former army and elsewhere — will serve in the months ahead as your new army grows,” said Bremer.r. More than 2,500 detainees held by the US-led coalition have been released since the establishment of a special board to expedite the review process two months ago, US civil overseer Paul Bremer said.
US forces are also warning they may resume attacks on the Sunni Muslim bastion of Fallujah if insurgents do not hand over their heavy weapons under the terms of a ceasefire deal. In Samarra, a US soldier was killed in a roadside bomb attack on his convoy. Three Iraqi police officers and a civilian were wounded in a drive-by rocket attack on a patrol in Baquba.
In London, Britain said it was considering sending more troops to Iraq to replace the withdrawing Spaniards, but had so far taken no decision. Such a move would be high risk for Prime Minister Tony Blair whose public trust ratings have plummeted over the unpopular invasion of Iraq a year ago and who is expected to call elections in early 2005. In an interview with ABC television, UN special envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi said an interim government could formed in Iraq by the scheduled June 30 handover of power by the US-led coalition, and that the deadline should not be extended. —Agencies