August 1, 2009 in Nation/World

Mosque bombings spur al-Qaida fears

Mohammed Al Dulaimy McClatchy

American tourists missing

 SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – The U.S. State Department said Friday it was investigating reports that three American tourists have been detained by Iranians while hiking near Iran’s border with the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

 U.S. helicopters were buzzing overhead and many U.S. Humvees had moved into the Kurdish city of Halabja to search for the Americans, said a Kurdish border force official.

Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Bombings at five Shiite Muslim mosques killed 29 worshippers Friday in a series of attacks that Iraqi army and police officers are interpreting as a sign that insurgents are determined to destabilize the country now that American forces have withdrawn from Iraqi cities and towns.

“You will see them attempting to start the sectarian violence again,” said a high-ranking Iraqi army officer who commands a unit in western Baghdad.

Iraqi army and police officers told McClatchy Newspapers that the pattern of attacks against the armed forces and civilians resembles the tactics that the extremist Sunni group al-Qaida in Iraq used before 2006. The increase in car bombs, roadside bombs and death threats indicates that the Islamic extremist group is attempting to recover ground it lost during the “surge” of American forces in 2008, the officers said.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, condemned the mosque bombings.

McClatchy counted 59 improvised explosive devices in Baghdad this July compared with 43 in the same month a year ago. McClatchy counted 107 deaths this July, up from 63. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior recorded 543 deaths throughout the country in June. The number decreased in July to 437.

That decline was offset by a rise in injuries from bomb attacks. Nearly 700 people were wounded across the country in July, up from 400 in June.

Outside Baghdad, Iraqi military and police officers are noticing al-Qaida in Iraq returning to its former safe havens. Insurgents used cities in mostly Sunni areas west of Baghdad such as Fallujah and Abu Ghraib to prepare bombs and raise money.

In Abu Ghraib, Iraqi soldiers said they’re facing what they call “the return of terrorism.” Several soldiers said that casualties have increased, and that their battalion was on high alert.

“They are back, and citizens are coming every day to inform us about them,” said Haider al-Ubeidi, an Iraqi army soldier in Abu Ghraib. “If our officers don’t take action to face them soon, they will get stronger and stronger.”

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