October 19, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A mortar attack on an Iraqi National Guard headquarters north of Baghdad on Tuesday killed four guardsmen and wounded 80 others, the U.S. military said. The director of CARE International in Iraq was kidnapped in the latest attack targeting humanitarian organizations.
The guardsmen were lined up in formation when six mortars hit the National Guard offices in an early morning attack in Mashahidah, 25 miles north of Baghdad, said international officials and National Guard officers under condition of anonymity.
The U.S. military cited the Iraqi Defense Minister as saying four guard members were killed and 80 others wounded. The military said multinational forces helicopters helped ferry out the wounded.
The Iraqi National Guard has been a frequent target of insurgents trying to undermine U.S.-led security efforts ahead of November national elections.
In northern Iraq, saboteurs attacked and set on fire a key oil pipeline that connects the Beiji oil refinery with Turkey, police said Tuesday. The pipeline was hit with explosives late Monday, said a Beiji police officer. An official at the state-run Northern Oil Company confirmed the attack, but did not say whether it would affect exports.
Iraq's oil industry has been hit by repeated insurgent attacks, hampering attempts to rebuild a sector that provides desperately needed money for Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
The abduction of CARE International's director was the latest kidnapping targeting foreigners in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
Margaret Hassan, said to be a British-born Iraqi national, was abducted while she was being driven to work in a west Baghdad neighborhood, said a CARE employee speaking on condition of anonymity. The employee said CARE did not employ armed guards.
Tran reports the attack targeted an Iraqi National Guard headquarters, and such facilities have been frequent targets by insurgents.
"As of now we are unaware of the motives for the abduction," CARE International, United Kingdom said in a statement released in London and read to The Associated Press in Baghdad. "As far as we know, Margaret is unharmed." The statement said she was abducted in Baghdad at 7:30 a.m. but gave no details.
Humanitarian organizations have not been spared from the violence sweeping Iraq. Last year, the Iraq headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross was damaged by a vehicle bomb, and many non-governmental organizations have withdraw foreign staff because of the bombings and kidnappings of foreigners.
Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 150 foreigners in their campaign to drive out coalition forces. At least 30 of them have been killed, including three Americans beheaded by their captors.
Last month, Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were kidnapped from the offices of their aid agency, "Un Ponte Per ..." ("A Bridge To...") in Baghdad. They were released in late September after three weeks in captivity.
CARE International has been active in Iraq since 1991 following the Gulf War, with programs focusing on rebuilding and maintaining water and sanitation systems, hospitals and clinics, according to the group's Web site.
The new violence came as U.S. and Iraqi forces continued a stepped-up campaign in the Sunni Triangle region north and west of Baghdad aimed at curbing Sunni Muslim extremists before January's national elections.
U.S. troops clashed with militants in the center of Ramadi, with fierce fighting taking place near City Hall, witnesses said Tuesday.
A Humvee was damaged by a homemade bomb and rocket fire, according to witness Hatif Mahmoud. It was uncertain whether there were any U.S. casualties.
In nearby Fallujah, the U.S. command said it destroyed several weapons storage sites and safehouses of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in strikes late Monday.
The military said recent attacks had forced leadership changes in al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad movement and the strikes late Monday targeted possible replacement leaders. Tawhid and Jihad has claimed responsibility for many car bombings and the beheading of hostages.
The strikes came shortly after Fallujah's chief negotiator, Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, ruled out any quick resumption of talks to find a peaceful solution to the standoff in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, a 1st Infantry Division Soldier died from a non-combat injury at a base in Diyala province, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The soldier was found at late Sunday in his living quarters after he did not return to his guard post. The incident is under investigation.
At least 1,102 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. and Iraqi commanders have spoken of a new offensive aimed at wresting Fallujah from insurgents if negotiations fail. The United States has asked Britain to move a small number of troops from southern Iraq to the Baghdad area in order to free up American forces for anti-insurgency operations.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Tuesday that his country's government is "very sympathetic" to the U.S. request
"It is in everybody's interests, whether they supported the initial military action or were against it, to work for a secure and stable Iraq as quickly as possible," Straw said. "The purpose of these proposed military changes is to do just that."
British lawmakers have shown concern about sending troops to the more volatile U.S.-controlled sector, and some have speculated that the move was aimed at helping President Bush's changes in November presidential elections - a claim Straw called "utter nonsense."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking at a press conference with Straw in London, said a crackdown on insurgents in Fallujah, Ramadi and other Sunni cities must not be allowed to alienate the Iraqi public.
"In these kind of situations you have two wars going on," Annan said. "You have the war for minds and hearts of the people, as well as efforts to try and bring down the violence.
"The two have to go together, and it has to be calibrated in such a way that you are able to move the people along with you," he said.
British military sources have said that if the U.S. request was granted, Britain's 650-strong First Battalion Black Watch stationed near the southern port of Basra, could be redeployed. Sending any of Britain's 9,000 troops north where there are more attacks by insurgents carries a risk of higher casualties and would be politically sensitive.
In a response to violence, Australia's government said Tuesday that it was moving its embassy in Baghdad into the strife-torn city's heavily fortified Green Zone.
Two days earlier, a car bomb blast close to the Australian embassy in the fashionable Jadiriyah district killed six people. No Australians were hurt in the blast. Australia has 920 troops in and around Iraq.