17 killed as Iraqi govt extends emergency powers for 30 days
* Guerrillas blow up gas pipeline feeding main power station
BAGHDAD: The fresh violence in Iraq claimed 17 people in various incidents in Iraq on Thursday. Two car bombs exploded near Iraq’s Interior Ministry on Thursday, killing at least five policemen in what Al Qaeda’s local wing said was a twin suicide attack to try to assassinate Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib.
The group, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, vowed to hunt Naqib as part of its relentless campaign to bring down the US-backed interim government and stall efforts to form a new cabinet.
“This blessed Thursday morning, two lions from the martyrs brigade set out and launched a heroic attack on the collaborationist Interior Ministry, targeting the interior minister,” the Al Qaeda Organisation in Iraq said on an Islamist website. “But he escaped. However, if one arrow missed, there is an endless supply in the quiver ... Thank God, for there were many Crusaders with their vehicles, guards and policemen and the two operations hit them and killed and wounded dozens.”
A police source said the car bombs exploded just outside the heavily guarded ministry in central Baghdad.
In fresh violence to hit Iraq’s north, two Iraqis working for a construction equipment company that supplies American contractors were killed by insurgents in Kirkuk, police said.
Nearby in Tikrit, one Iraqi soldier was killed and six wounded by gunmen, and in Baquba a suicide bomber blew himself up near the local army headquarters, killing one civilian and wounding 14 people.
In Qaim, 500 kilometres west of Baghdad near the Syrian border, three people were killed, including a woman and child, in clashes between US troops and insurgents, doctors said. In Baghdad police discovered the bodies of three men who had been blindfolded and shot in the back of the head, a scene that is becoming increasingly common in Iraq.
Guerrillas also targeted energy infrastructure, blowing up a gas pipeline feeding Iraq’s main power station on Thursday. The blast near Kirkuk forced two out of four turbines at the Baiji power station to shut, engineer Khaled al-Lami said. Two US soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack, the US military said on Thursday. A statement said the soldiers died in hospital late on Wednesday after a bomb hit their vehicle during a patrol in Baghdad. It gave no further details.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s interim government said on Thursday it was extending emergency powers equivalent to martial law for a further 30 days to crack down on insurgents.
The state of emergency, first imposed in November ahead of a major US assault on the rebel stronghold of Falluja west of Baghdad, would stay in effect into March 31, said a government statement.
Emergency powers allow the government to impose curfews, close borders and airports and detain suspects without following normal legal procedures. The emergency applies to all regions of Iraq except the Kurdish north, which has been relatively stable.
On the other hand, Iraqi politicians are engaged in protracted horse-trading to fill top posts in the government, creating a new political landscape that has raised concern over sectarian tensions. A Shi’ite alliance won a slim parliamentary majority in the Janauary 30 polls, gaining power after decades of Sunni Arab domination under Saddam Hussein. The alliance has chosen Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister. But interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is bidding to keep his job. The Kurds, who came second in the elections, are in a powerful negotiating position and are seen as kingmakers. Iraqi officials said on Thursday talks would continue for several days. reuters