Renewed Attacks Raise Fears Of Iraqi Insurgents

In Iraq Wednesday, coordinated attacks on Iraqi security forces killed nearly 60 people. Al-Qaida is blamed for the attacks. The coordinated violence happened the day after the number of U.S. troops fell below 50,000 for the first time since the start of the war.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Iraqs insurgents are showing they aren't about to fade away. Gunmen and suicide bombers mounted a wave of deadly attacks in more than a dozen towns and cities yesterday, from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. As many as 60 are known dead, and more than 200 are injured. The attacks appear to have been coordinated at a time when the U.S. has completed a massive reduction of its troop strength, and Iraqi leaders continue to squabble over forming a new government nearly six months after elections.

NPRs Mike Shuster has the story from Baghdad.

MIKE SHUSTER: The targets were mostly police and other Iraqi security forces. In Baghdad, a car bomb behind a police station the first of three in the capital - left several nearby buildings crumbling. Fifteen police and civilians were killed. In Kut, a hundred miles southeast of Baghdad, a similar blast, between a police station and a local government council building, left more than 20 dead and nearly 100 wounded. There were similar attacks in Mosul, Kirkuk, Ramadi, Falluja, Mugdadiyah, and several smaller towns. The wave of attacks, which were certainly coordinated, left many in Iraq shaken.

Mr. ABU SALMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: They did the bombings because of the Americans, said Abu Salman, at his butcher shop in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. They claim that when the Americans leave, there will be more bombs in Iraq.

Mr. ABU MUHAMMAD (Construction Worker): (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: Abu Muhammad, a construction worker agreed. They do think the Americans are weaker now, so lets do it, he said.

Mr. SALMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: Abu Salman added: They are getting stronger because there is no government, and theres no protection in the street.

There is little doubt that the attacks yesterday were well-coordinated. And they appear to have been the work of Sunni insurgents. Thats the view of Hamid al Kifaey, the former spokesman for the Iraqi governing council.

Mr. HAMID AL KIFAEY (Iraqi Governing Council): It could be al-Qaida, but al-Qaida is coordinating its efforts with other groups, with other armed groups - some groups which probably are remnants of the old regime.

SHUSTER: Over the past two years, the insurgency has gone relatively quiet, and there was a growing belief in Iraq that the worst of the sectarian violence was over. At the same time, just a few days ago, the U.S. military announced that the last U.S. combat brigade had left Iraq, and on Tuesday the military declared that it had reached the drawdown goal of 50,000. Next week, Operation Iraqi Freedom will officially come to an end, and the new U.S. mission in Iraq will be named New Dawn.

This particular moment appears to have provided an opportunity for the insurgents, says Hamid al Kifaey.

Mr. AL KIFAEY: There is a resurgence and its not helped by the political vacuum. The Americans are leaving. There is some sort of uncertainty in Iraq now. Its six months since the elections, and the government has not been formed.

SHUSTER: U.S. military officials acknowledge that a number of factors have come together right now to provide a window of opportunity for the insurgents. But U.S. officials still are trying to put the best face on a troubling situation. They say Iraqi security forces are now fully capable of handling any challenge to internal security, including attacks like those yesterday.

Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, was in Baghdad. Insurgent attacks were already on the rise, but they had not yet reached yesterdays level. Feltman argued that the current government of Iraq was not going to collapse in the wake of an uptick in insurgent activity.

Mr. JEFFREY FELTMAN (Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East): You dont see the government crumbling under the pressure. What you see are horrific attacks by any means awful. But you do see a government that despite a political gridlock at the top is functioning, institutions that are certainly working in a far better way than they were working, say, eight years ago.

SHUSTER: Yesterdays attacks were serious and do demonstrate that there are still insurgent cells operating across Iraq and able to coordinate a nationwide challenge to the government. Now, Iraqis are waiting to see whether this kind of attack is only occasional, or whether the country is facing something far more serious.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Baghdad.

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