Suicide bomber kills three in Iraqi police station attack

Thursday, January 15, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A car bomb exploded Wednesday in front of a police station in Baqouba, killing the driver and at least two other people in the second fatal bombing in the central Iraqi city in a week.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military announced the capture of the suspected paymaster for guerrillas west of Baghdad but missed a bigger prize -- former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

The bombing was part of a flurry of attacks, with U.S. officials on Wednesday reporting three road ambushes and a hand grenade assault. The U.S. death toll rose to 496 with the death of a 101st Airborne Division soldier in an unspecified "non-hostile incident."

In one ambush, gunmen opened fire on a U.S. patrol and the troops fired back, killing eight Iraqis. In another, assailants attacked a U.S. contractor's convoy, killing two civilian drivers and wounding two other people, both Americans.

The attack in Baqouba occurred about 8:20 a.m. when a motorist tried to drive into the walled compound of a police station in the city, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Driver detonated vehicle

Police Col. Salam Omar said guards opened fire after the driver ignored orders to stop. He then detonated the vehicle, killing himself and two others and wounding about 30 people, including police, Iraqi civil defense officers and civilian bystanders. The blast damaged the wall around the compound and shattered windows at the station and nearby shops.

Tension has mounted in Baqouba since a bomb exploded Friday outside a Shiite Muslim mosque, killing five people. Police said a second bomb was found hours earlier in a car parked near another Shiite mosque but was defused.

In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, U.S. troops captured Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, a former regional Baath Party chairman and militia commander who was No. 54 on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted figures, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Wednesday.

Al-Muhammad, who was arrested Sunday, was "an enabler" for many attacks against the U.S.-led coalition, Kimmitt said. Other U.S. officers had described al-Muhammad as the most wanted regime figure in Anbar province, which includes such hotspots as Fallujah and Ramadi. He was believed to be funneling payments to forces attacking American troops in the volatile region west of the capital.

American troops went after a bigger target -- al-Douri -- during a raid early Wednesday in Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad. The former Iraqi vice president wasn't found, but soldiers of the 720th Military Police Battalion arrested four of his nephews.

-- two of whom were believed to have been in close touch with al-Douri, according to Lt. Col. David J. Poirier.

All four were taken to a detention facility in Tikrit, deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown 120 miles north of Baghdad.

Al-Douri has a $10 million bounty on his head and is suspected to have been orchestrating insurgent attacks on coalition forces. He is No. 6 on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. The top five on the list have either been captured or killed. Al-Douri's wife and daughter were arrested Nov. 26.

"One of these days his head will rise up above the water, and we will be able to capture him as well," Poirier said.

On Tuesday, eight cars driving past a U.S. patrol in Samarra began shooting at the soldiers, who returned fire, killing eight Iraqis, said military spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle.

She said one attacker was wounded and two vehicles were destroyed. The remaining six cars were seized and their 26 occupants arrested, she said.

On Wednesday, two civilian drivers were killed during an attack near Tikrit on a convoy operated by U.S. contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root.

Both of the slain drivers were foreigners, Aberle said, but she did not give their nationalities. One U.S. soldier and another driver, a U.S. citizen, were wounded, she said.

In other violence, unidentified attackers in a car fired at a police checkpoint in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and a civilian bystander on Tuesday, said police Maj. Adel Abdul-Kareem.

Assailants also hurled two hand grenades Wednesday inside a meeting of Arab tribal leaders and American military administrators in the northern oil city of Kirkuk. There were no injuries in the blast, but U.S. troops fired at the assailants, wounding three people, police Maj. Turhan Abdel Rahman Youssef said.

Associated Press writers Paul Garwood in Samarra and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baqouba contributed to this report.

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