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Iraq: Upsurge In Violence Underscores Dangers Facing Interim Government

At least 10 people died in attacks on 15 July, after violence the previous day killed some 20 people. The attacks have ended the relative calm following the handover of power and have underscored the difficulties facing the new interim government.

15 July 2004 -- A recent upsurge in violence in Iraq has underscored difficulties facing the new Iraqi interim government.

On 15 July, a car bomb exploded in the western city of Al-Hadithah, killing 10 people and wounding at least 30 others. The attack appeared to target the main police station.

In the north of the country, firefighters are trying to put out a fire on an oil pipeline near Kirkuk. The cause was not immediately known, but insurgents have frequently attacked the country's oil and gas pipelines.
"We think that there will continue to be high-profile large attacks by Zarqawi. That is how he gains attention for his cause, and his cause is putting fear in the hearts of the world and of the Iraqi people."

In southern Iraq, reports say saboteurs drilled holes into a key pipeline southwest of Al-Basrah. Most of the country's oil exports flow through the south. It wasn't clear if exports were affected.

The incidents come a day after 20 people were killed in violence around the country. At least 10 died in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad outside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the interim Iraqi government. In a separate attack, the governor of the province surrounding Mosul and two bodyguards were killed.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced on 15 July the formation of a new security service to tackle the insurgency. He said the new service, the General Security Directorate, would annihilate what he called "terrorist" groups.

But it's still not clear exactly who is behind the year-long insurgency, which hampered the U.S. occupation of the country and now poses a stern challenge to the Iraqi authorities.

The U.S. military, which maintains around 135,000 troops in the country, continues to place much of the blame on foreign radicals and "Jihadists," led in the forefront by Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi.

U.S. Brigadier General Erwin Lessel told Reuters on 13 July that capturing al-Zarqawi remains a top priority. "We believe that Zarqawi is a top priority both for the multinational forces and for the government of Iraq," he said. "If we can rid Iraq of this foreign threat, then perhaps the multinational forces in support of the Iraqi government will have an easier time dealing with the local insurgents."

He continued: "We think that there will continue to be high-profile large attacks by Zarqawi. That is how he gains attention for his cause, and his cause is putting fear in the hearts of the world and of the Iraqi people."

But the claim that foreigners are behind many if not most of the attacks has come under increasing scrutiny.

A recent report in the Associated Press on 9 July states that militant Sunni Muslims -- not foreign jihadists -- are leading the insurgency. The report, which cites an unnamed U.S. military official involved in tracking insurgents, said well-armed Iraqi Sunnis -- angered at being pushed out of power by last year's U.S.-led war (Hussein is a Sunni) -- are funding and carrying out many of the attacks.

The U.S. administration of George W. Bush has largely sought to portray the insurgency as part of a larger Islamist, anti-Western threat. But AP quoted the U.S. official as saying, "we're not at the forefront of a jihadist war here." His assertions could not be independently verified.

The AP report also disputes U.S. accounts of the size of the insurgency. The U.S. military puts the number of insurgents at about 5,000 or so. The AP report says the real number may be as high as 20,000.

The higher figure would account for continuation of the violence after the month of April, when U.S. forces battling fighters in the south and north of the country may have killed as many as 4,000 Iraqis.

Meanwhile, militants holding a Filipino man hostage in Iraq say they will release the captive after the last Filipino soldier leaves the country, expected by the end of the month.

Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television read a statement from the hostage takers hours after they aired a video of the Filipino hostage, who thanked his government for starting to withdraw troops from Iraq. The militants had threatened to kill him unless the Philippines withdrew its 51 troops from Iraq by 20 July, a month ahead of schedule.

(compiled from wire reports)

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