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Al Qaida's Zarqawi seen behind horrific bomb attack on Shi'ites

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Thursday, March 4, 2004

BAGHDAD A leading Al Qaida-aligned insurgency leader has used Iranian nationals to infiltrate Iraq's Shi'ite majority community.

Iraqi and U.S. officials said Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded as the most lethal insurgent in Iraq, has succeeded in infiltrating agents into the Shi'ite community in several major cities of the country. They said Al Zarqawi has recruited Iranians to collect intelligence and transport suicide bombers to Shi'ite civilian targets.

Officials said both the U.S. military and the Iraqi Governing Council expected the attacks, which resulted in a delay of the signing of an interim Iraqi constitution on Wednesday. They said suspected Al Zarqawi agents had penetrated a three-ringed cordon established to protect Shi'ite sites. In the outer ring were U.S. forces. The second cordon was composed of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Iraqi police were in the inner ring. The rings were coordinated through a joint control center.

The suicide bombings were meant to have been part of a larger effort to carry out strikes in other Shi'ite-populated cities in Iraq. In the southern city of Basra, Iraqi police reported the arrest of four would-be suicide bombers. In Najaf, police found and defused a bomb meant to have exploded on Tuesday, Middle East Newsline reported.

Al Zarqawi, the officials said, has managed to collect information on a range of Shi'ite targets where U.S. forces have not been deployed. They said his agents have taken advantage of the uncoordinated security around Shi'ite mosques and other shrines, regarded as high-value targets because of the large number of people they attract. Al Zarqawi, the officials said, has also taken advantage of the refusal by Shi'ite mosque guards to cooperate with Sunni police deployed outside the houses of worship.

On Tuesday, in the bloodiest day in Iraq since the end of the U.S.-led war against the Saddam Hussein regime, about 200 Shi'ites were killed in suicide and other bombings in Baghdad and Karbala. The Shi'ites were marking the 10-day Ashura mourning period for the death of Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed, founder of Islam.

"We know they did this as part of an effort to provoke sectarian violence among Muslims," Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer said. "We know they chose this day so that they could kill as many innocents as possible."

The attacks in Baghdad and Karbala were timed to be simultaneous, officials said. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Kazimiya shrine, killing at least 58 and wounding more than 200.

A fourth suicide bomber whose vest did not explode was captured at the scene. On Wednesday, officials said 15 suspects were arrested, including at least four people who appear to be Iranian nationals.

In Karbala, about 90 kilometers south of Baghdad, two explosions rocked pilgrim centers in the Shi'ite city. One blast took place along a road used by Shi'ite pilgrims leading to a Shi'ite shrine. The head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mohammed Bahr Al Aloum, survived a mortar attack in the city.

"Certainly, one of the chief suspects in this would be Zarqawi, just by the methods that have been used in the past, just by the techniques that have been used in the past," U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director of U.S. forces in Iraq, said. "The explosions were caused by three methods: a suicide bomber in the city center, explosives along the road outside the city set off by remote-detonation devices, and mortar rounds fired from near the city."

"The terrorists had this well planned out," Kimmitt said. "They had obviously planned this for an extensive period of time. They wore clothing, more than likely, which would hide the fact that they were wearing explosive vest devices. They are very easy to hide devices, very, very difficult to detect."

Al Zarqawi, officials said, intends to spark a Sunni-Shi'ite war in Iraq as part of an effort to expand his organization and conduct operations against U.S. and Israeli targets throughout the Middle East. So far, they said, tensions have been simmering in the Shi'ite community, with some elements blaming the U.S. military for failing to provide sufficient security while others calling for revenge strikes against Sunnis.

"These acts are targeted against the Iraqi people and the political process toward Iraq's independence and liberation," Iraqi Governing Council member Ibrahim Jafari said. "At the same time, it's an attempt to sow division among the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and to make the Sunnis believe that their enemies are the Shi'ites and to make the Shi'ites believe that their enemies are the Sunnis."

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