Car Bombs, Karbala Raid Mark Deadly Week in Iraq

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Two car bombs set off in quick succession kill at least 13 people in a mainly Shiite district of Baghdad, punctuating a week of intense violence that included an audacious attack targeting Americans at a compound in Karbala.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Thousands of protesters are gathering today for an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. The rally comes at the end of what's been a particularly bloody week in Iraq. NPR's Anne Garrels joins us from Baghdad. Anne, thanks for being with us.

ANNE GARRELS: Good morning.

SIMON: Anne, let's start with this attack in Karbala, which certainly sounds like the most audacious if not the most deadly attack of the week.

GARRELS: It was certainly one of the boldest ever, I think, and certainly a dramatic breach of security - from 9 to 12 gunmen speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms, carrying American weapons, traveled in the same kind of black GMC Suburbans used by U.S. government convoys. And they managed to reach the governor's compound in Karbala, and then got into the building where American military officers were meeting with their Iraqi counterparts.

These gunmen apparently knew exactly what to do and who they were looking for. They headed straight for the Americans. One U.S. soldier was killed during the assault, four were captured and taken away. Three of these captured were later found dead about 25 miles from the compound. And the last, who was seriously wounded, subsequently died.

Now, the U.S. military is saying that this was done by insurgents - that word usually signifies Sunnis, although it's not entirely clear who did it. But whoever did it, the military says the precision, the equipment suggest that it was extremely well rehearsed and planned.

SIMON: More bombings reported in Baghdad today, two car bombs, one right after another. Any indication of who's responsible for those bombings?

GARRELS: Well, most of the bombings this week have been carried out by Sunni insurgents against Shiites in Shiite neighborhoods, usually often involving two cars. It's really nasty. You know, one goes and explodes and then when people go in to help the wounded and recover the dead, another one goes off.

Shiite militias, meanwhile, have been keeping a pretty low profile. And representatives of Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi army, which has been responsible for much of the sectarian killing of late, has actually said they do have orders to keep a low profile. And the mayor of Sadr City says he's now been authorized to negotiate with Coalition commanders on behalf of Sadr's militia and other groups.

Now, U.S. officials are really cautious about these talks.

SIMON: And against all this, Speaker Pelosi has been in Iraq. What's she been doing while she's been there?

GARRELS: She's been meeting with Iraqi officials. You know, the prime minister, the president, other top figures here. She hasn't spoken much. And even though she's been meeting in the ambassador's residence, the embassy has said that they are not responsible for her trip. So we really don't have a whole lot of information.

Prime Minister Maliki, for his part, said he told her that he wants Iraqi troops to take the lead. And he said he wants 50,000 U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. However, the performance of Iraqi troops in two key operations this week indicate their performance remains mixed at best. Let me just give you details on one assault on Haifa street. The Iraqi troops were supposed to be in the lead but they arrived late. And when the Iraqi troops did arrive, American troops said that it was chaotic and that the Iraqi troops were, in fact, pretty useless.

SIMON: NPR's Anne Garrels in Baghdad. Thank you very much.

GARRELS: Thank you, Scott.

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