New Violence Greets Iraqi Government

In Iraq, insurgents have increased attacks three days after an incomplete government was formed. A car bombing and an attack on Iraqi police left more than 15 dead Sunday. Since Friday, violence has claimed more than 80 lives. Hear Liane Hansen and New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

In Iraq, insurgents have waged a stepped-up campaign of violence in the three days after formation of an incomplete government. At least one car bombing and an attack on Iraq police today left more than 15 people dead. Since Friday, at least 15 car bombings and uncounted other attacks have claimed more than 70 lives. John Burns is the Baghdad bureau chief for The New York Times in Iraq. He joins us from Baghdad.

Welcome back to the show, John.

Mr. JOHN BURNS (Los Angeles Times): Thank you very much.

HANSEN: What kind of detail can you give us about the latest attacks?

Mr. BURNS: Well, we're just now getting details of one of the more horrendous attacks today, which was a suicide car bombing aimed at American troops who had dismounted from Humvees in the Zafaraniya neighborhood of Baghdad. The troops were handing out candies to children. We know that at least three of the children were killed, that 20 or more others were wounded, some of them very seriously, including three brothers in the same family, the oldest of them 12, all of whom seem likely to have legs amputated as a result of this. And so that's probably the single most horrendous attack today.

There was a very serious attack at dawn in south Baghdad on the principal road leading to the south when a truck with at least 30 insurgents in it attacked a checkpoint, killed at least five Iraqi policemen, and this was another example of a mass attack. There were at least 20 or 30 other insurgents who had placed themselves behind trees in the area before this attack, so we're seeing an increasing incidence of these kinds of mass attacks on Iraqi police units and American units, as well. So it's not been a good day. There are at least 15 dead across the country, possibly many more, dozens of wounded, and the cumulative death toll from the three days since the new government was announced is now pushing on towards a hundred.

HANSEN: So what is the atmosphere like in Baghdad, because numbers are only telling part of this story?

Mr. BURNS: It's not good. The elections, as you know, caused a tremendous upsurge in public morale. Much of that was squandered by the three months it took to form a government. Now they've got a government, the government's incomplete. There are seven vacant ministries dedicated to Sunnis. The Shia and the Sunnis can't agree about the nominees to that. Some of the Sunnis negotiating with the Shiite majority of the places in that ministry have been attacked and now withdrawn from the negotiations. And the streets are, of course, deadly in the capital itself, as these incidents today confirm.

One good piece of news, or bad piece of news, I suppose, in the sense that, because there was always this glimmer of hope for ...(unintelligible) of Margaret Hassan's effects, ID, handbag, clothes were found at Madain about 30 miles southeast of Baghdad today by--in a raid in which the terrorists were captured. And we're hearing that two of those terrorists have already confessed to being involved in the killing of Margaret Hassan, which seems to remove any doubt that she is, in fact, dead. That does, in fact, mean that her husband, who has always said that he would like her back so that they could bury her, will at least have the satisfaction, if you could call it that, or the relief of knowing closure and what actually happened.

HANSEN: And finally, John, what can you tell us about the report that the US military released this weekend on the checkpoint shooting earlier this year in which an Italian intelligence officer was killed? The report exonerates the soldiers who were involved.

Mr. BURNS: It's very complete. And to me, the really significant element in that report are that it seems clear, if the report is accurate--tells us that no American commander, and indeed nobody in the American military command at all, knew that the Italians were engaged in that enterprise that evening to free Ms. Sgrena, that they were never informed and that the Italians approached not a checkpoint but a blockage placed by the Americans on the airport road to keep traffic off it so that the US ambassador could travel along it to a dinner with the American military commander at the US military headquarters near the airport. Clearly, having closed the road, if they had known that an Italian operation was in progress at that time, they would have told the Italians. They seem not to have known.

And left unanswered is the question of whether, in fact, the Italians kept this secret because of their desire for the Americans not to know that there was a ransom payment being made. This has been much rumored in Italy. There are certainly senior American officers at the Pentagon and here who believe there was a ransom paid. But the Berlusconi government has, of course, been reluctant to discuss this. But that may prove to have been the essential condition that led to this. That is to say, the Italians' need to keep secret the nature of the operation they were engaged in from the American command.

HANSEN: John Burns is Baghdad bureau chief of The New York Times. He joined us by his cell phone from Baghdad.

John, thank you very much.

Mr. BURNS: It's a pleasure.

HANSEN: You can read the report on the checkpoint shooting as edited by military censors on our Web site, npr.org.

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