BAGHDAD, Iraq – Suicide bombers struck Iraqi security targets Saturday north and west of Baghdad, killing 22 Iraqis, officials said. Six U.S. soldiers were wounded in an ambush on the road to the Baghdad airport – one of the country’s most dangerous routes.
Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced the arrest of what it said was a newly promoted senior leader in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terrorist movement – taken into custody during an early-morning raid near Fallujah.
At least 16 Iraqi policemen were killed and 40 others were wounded when a suicide driver detonated his car at a police station near a U.S. Marine base in Khan al-Baghdadi, 140 miles west of the capital, according to police. No Americans were hurt in the 7 a.m. attack, the U.S. military said.
A second suicide driver killed four guardsmen and injured six others in an attack Saturday near an Iraqi National Guard checkpoint in Ishaqi, six miles south of Samarra, police said. Another two guardsmen were killed in a convoy attack in the northern part of the city.
The six American soldiers were injured when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol about 7:15 a.m. on the main road linking Baghdad International Airport with the city center. One armored vehicle was destroyed but none of the soldiers received life-threatening injuries, the U.S military said.
Insurgent attacks have increased by 25 percent across the country since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began last weekend. Most of the recent attacks have been by car and roadside bombs.
The purported al-Zarqawi aide was arrested along with five other people in a pre-dawn raid outside Fallujah, the military said. The person’s name was not released, but a U.S. statement said the individual had risen in rank as other al-Zarqawi associates had been killed in U.S. attacks on Fallujah.
Fallujah residents identified those arrested as Abdel-Hamid Fiyadh, 50, his sons Walid, 18, and Majid, 25, and three relatives. Relatives insisted the men had nothing to do with al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for numerous beheadings of hostages – including Americans – and suicide car bombings, including recent twin bombings inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the U.S. and Iraqi leadership are housed.
A videotape posted Saturday on Islamic Web sites showed Iraqi militants claiming to have beheaded a man who said he worked for the U.S. military in the northern city of Mosul for the past year. The man, who identified himself as Seif Adnan Kanaan, said he fixed vehicles and delivered beverages to U.S. forces based at Mosul airport.
The killing was claimed by the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, which claims to have killed at least 14 other hostages.
Also Saturday, the husband of the kidnapped director of CARE International’s operations in Iraq appealed for her release. Margaret Hassan, 59, who has British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship, was seized Tuesday in western Baghdad. On Friday, she made an emotional televised plea to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to save her life by withdrawing his country’s troops from Iraq.
On Saturday, her Iraqi husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, begged for the kidnappers to free her “in the name of Islam.”
“It hurts to watch my wife cry,” Tahseen Hassan said on Al-Arabiya television. “This scene has saddened and worried her friends and loved ones. I plead with you, in the name of Islam and Arabism – while we are in the most sacred Islamic month – that my wife and beloved return to me.”
The secretary-general of CARE International made his own appeal Saturday. “She is a naturalized Iraqi citizen and always holds the people of Iraq in her heart,” Denis Caillaux said. “CARE joins with many of the people whose lives Mrs. Hassan has touched over her decades of service in Iraq in reaching out to her captors to appeal to their humanity.”
Militants have kidnapped at least seven other foreign women over the past six months, and all were released. By contrast, at least 33 foreign male hostages have been killed, including three Americans beheaded by their captors.
In other developments Saturday:
“ A mortar round landed in a central Baghdad neighborhood, killing two people and injuring one.
“ An unexploded mortar was found inside Japan’s military base in Samawah. It was the first such incident since hundreds of Japanese troops arrived on a humanitarian mission, a Japanese official said. There were no injuries.
“ Gunmen opened fire on a convoy of Turkish trucks in Mosul, killing two drivers – a Turk and a Yugoslav – and wounding two others, hospital and police officials said.
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