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Thursday, July 15, 2004
Iraqi governor assassinated, 10 others killed
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Iraqi governor assassinated, 10 others killed

A suicide car bomb killed 10 people outside the Iraqi government's compound and assailants gunned down the Mosul governor and two of his bodyguards in the most serious strikes since the return of sovereignty. Adding to the new administration's woes, the Philippines started to withdraw its troops from Iraq, bowing to a threat from kidnappers to behead a Filipino hostage, hours after insurgents executed a Bulgarian truck driver.

Speaking to reporters as he toured the site of the Baghdad carnage, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said "this is a naked aggression against the Iraqi people. We will bring these criminals to justice." The bomb blast occurred at 9:15 am (0515 GMT) near the heavily guarded entrance to Iraq's main government offices in the central Baghdad compound known as the Green Zone that also houses the US embassy.

"We believe it was a suicide bombing," said US Colonel Mike Murray, adding that an American soldier was among the 40 injured. The attack killed three national guardsmen and seven civilians, according to the Iraqi interior ministry. It was not clear if the toll counted the bomber. The vehicle was packed with 300 to 320 kilograms (660 to 700 pounds) of explosive material, a police officer said. Black smoke billowed into the air above the blast site, crammed with cars of people travelling to the compound, and sirens wailed as ambulances sped in and out of the carnage ferrying the injured and dead to nearby hospitals. The attack fell on a national holiday commemorating the 1958 coup by Arab nationalists that toppled Iraq's monarchy.

"We think this is a response to recent arrests in the last couple of days," Allawi said, apparently referring to a police sweep in the capital on Monday that snared more than 525 suspected outlaws. "We have caught some prominent criminals. They are under investigation. They are cooperating and have been divulging important information (on criminal activities)," the premier said.

Allawi is struggling to restore security to the war-ravaged country after the US-led coalition handed over control to him on June 28. Last Wednesday his government passed a tough security law that arms the premier with a range of new powers such as declaring a state of emergency, slapping down curfews and restricting movement to control the lawlessness that has raged since the US-led invasion more than 15 months ago. He has yet to flex these new muscles and it is unclear how he would pull off a major offensive against the insurgents without major US support.

The rebels delivered a second blow to Allawi Wednesday as Mosul governor Ussama Kachmul and two of his bodyguards were gunned down by four attackers while traveling south to Baghdad, a spokesman for the governorate said. In an exchange of fire after the convoy escorting Kachmula was ambushed, the four assailants were also shot dead, Hazem Jalawi told AFP. The attack was the second assassination in two days.

In Baghdad, unknown gunmen shot dead Sabir Karim, a director general at the industry ministry, on Tuesday as he left his home in Baghdad to go to work, a spokesman said. Insurgents have murdered dozens of Iraqi government employees as part of their campaign against the post-Saddam Hussein political order. Iraqi President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, himself from Mosul, said it may take up to a year to restore security to the country, and compared the insurgents to "a cancer". In an apparent setback for the multinational forces, Manila gave into hostage-takers demands on Tuesday and started to withdraw its handful of troops from Iraq to save the life of a Filipino truck driver kidnapped last week.

The move came despite warnings by allies the United States and Australia that it was sending the wrong signal to the insurgents. Filipino diplomatic sources in Baghdad told AFP that the hostage, Angelo de la Cruz, was "safe and alive" after Foreign Secretary Delia Albert announced the withdrawal in a dramatic change of policy. Albert suggested that eight members of the tiny 51-strong contingent of soldiers and police doing reconstruction work in Iraq had left the country. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian government said it did not have the power to influence an ultimatum from kidnappers to kill a second Bulgarian hostage unless US troops freed Iraqi prisoners within 24 hours.

Al-Jazeera satellite television said Tuesday it had received video footage of the beheading of one of the two truck drivers who were taken hostage near Mosul last Thursday by the Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War) group. However, Bulgaria said it would continue to contribute to reconstruction, stabilization and development in Iraq.

In another worrying twist, a group holding an Egyptian truck driver hostage for a one-million-dollar ransom has given his Saudi employer 72 hours to leave the country, the Al-Jazeera reported Tuesday. Meanwhile, the United States and Britain took another hit over their justifications for invading Iraqi as an official British inquiry lambasted the state of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction but exonerated Prime Minister Tony Blair of any wrongdoing.

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