Wave of attacks in Iraq

29 July 2004, Michael Howard, The Guardian

BAGHDAD - More than 100 people were killed in Iraq in a wave of attacks yesterday, as insurgents demonstrated that the interim government's honeymoon is well and truly over.

In the deadliest single suicide bomb for a year, 70 people were killed and 30 wounded in Baquba, 40 miles north of Baghdad.

Clashes occurred in several other locations throughout the country, exactly a month after the US formally handed over sovereignty to an Iraqi administration.

There was a fierce battle in the town of Suwariya, 40 miles south-east of Baghdad. Seven Iraqi soldiers fighting alongside multinational troops were killed in the clashes that also left 35 insurgents dead.

There were also shootings and clashes in the western city of Ramadi and the northern city of Kirkuk. Central Baghdad descended into chaos after a rocket hit a busy street, killing two people and wounding four, including three children.

The hostage crisis also escalated when a militant group holding two Pakistani contractors last night said it had executed the men, but freed their Iraqi driver, according to the TV station al-Jazeera.

The Baquba suicide bomb left a trail of destruction, obliterating market stalls and destroying several buildings. As well as tearing through scores of civilians as they shopped at the market, the bomb struck a group of men lining up at a nearby recruiting office for the Iraqi police.

It raised fears of a fresh insurgent campaign just days before Iraq holds a major political conference to plot its future.

In western Iraq, two foreign soldiers were killed and two aircraft forced to make emergency landings after coming under fire, a US spokesman said.

In three days Iraq is due to convene a national conference in which 1,000 delegates will gather in Baghdad, billed as a crucial next step in Iraq's transition to democracy ahead of elections planned for January.

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