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Camera spattered with journalists blood { September 13 2004 }

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Constant rebel attacks kill 25 in Baghdad
Guerrilla war grows more sophisticated and widespread
- Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times
Monday, September 13, 2004

Baghdad -- In a series of tightly sequenced attacks, at least 25 Iraqis were killed by suicide car bombings and a barrage of missile and mortar fire in several neighborhoods across Baghdad on Sunday.

The brazen attacks were the most widespread in months, seeming to demonstrate the growing power of the insurgency and heightening the sense of uncertainty and chaos in the capital at a time when U.S. forces already have ceded control to insurgents in a number of cities outside of Baghdad.

The Associated Press reported the death toll throughout the country for the day at 59, citing the Health Ministry and local authorities. Nearly 200 people were wounded, more than half of those in Baghdad.

Four suicide car bombings struck targets in Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, with two of them detonating nearly simultaneously and one hitting just outside the gates of the Abu Ghraib prison.

In Baghdad, U.S. military helicopters fired at Iraqis who were scaling a burning U.S. armored vehicle. It was unclear how many Iraqis were killed in the air strike: At least one television journalist was confirmed dead, and photographs immediately after the strike showed four men severely wounded or dead at the site. Military commanders said the helicopters were returning fire aimed at them from the ground.

U.S. forces appear to be facing a guerrilla insurgency that is more sophisticated and more widespread than ever. Last month, attacks on U.S. forces reached their highest level since the war began, an average of 87 per day.

In an appearance on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Sunday that the United States faced a difficult time in Iraq but had a plan to bring it under control before nationwide elections scheduled for January.

"It's not an impossible task," he said.

Unity and Jihad, a militant group linked to al Qaeda and led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed it carried out Sunday's attacks.

The violence, which began before dawn, all but paralyzed the capital city, where portions of several central highways were closed and traffic slowed to a crawl.

Starting Saturday night, according to witnesses, insurgents fired mortar shells into the International Zone, a heavily fortified area in central Baghdad where the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy are. The area is often the target of mortar fire, but rarely has the bombardment been so persistent and intense. About a dozen rounds were fired into the area through the night, said Tahir Rahim, a Pakistani who works as a chef there.

"It was like an earthquake," said Rahim.

U.S. officials were not immediately able to provide details on damage or casualties in the area on Sunday night.

As the mortar shells were still falling early Sunday morning, a suicide bomber plowed into a Bradley fighting vehicle on Haifa Street in central Baghdad, not far from the International Zone, the military said. The vehicle was hit at 6:50 a.m. as it was traveling to the area to help U.S. forces that had come under fire from insurgents there.

Six soldiers were wounded in the attack, including two crew members of the armored vehicle.

No Americans were killed, but the confusion that followed showed the difficult decisions commanders face as they push ahead in this increasingly organized guerrilla war.

After the attack, fighters and gleeful onlookers scaled the burning armored vehicle, said Hassan Lazim, assistant security director at nearby Karkh Hospital who said he saw the scene. Reuters reported that several young men had hung a black banner of the Unity and Jihad militant group on the barrel of the Bradley's main gun.

Helicopters that flew in to protect the Bradley were then fired on from the ground and fired back, the military said in a statement, adding that the aircraft then destroyed the armored vehicle to prevent the loss of sensitive equipment and weapons. The military stressed that the helicopters had not fired indiscriminately into the crowd, but said, "An unknown number of insurgents and Iraq civilians were wounded or killed in the incident."

In the fighting before and after the attack on the Bradley, 13 people were killed and 61 were wounded, the Iraqi Health Ministry said. A journalist for the Al-Arabiya television network and a 12-year-old girl were among the dead, hospital officials said.

Al-Arabiya showed dramatic footage that followed the journalist, Mazen al- Tumeizi, as he stumbled away from the scene of the air strikes, yelling, "I'm dying, I'm dying!" The camera lens was spattered with what appeared to be blood.

"We can say there were innocent people who died," said Sabah Abud, head of emergency room statistics at Yarmouk Hospital, which received most of those wounded on Sunday.

The attacks kept coming. Yarmouk Hospital was a scene of panic shortly after noon, following another suicide bombing attack, this time on a convoy of Iraqi National Guard troops. Doctors worked frantically to get the injured on stretchers. A mother wailed for help for her son. A baby was rushed on an orange adult-size stretcher to a surgery.

Several hours before the attack on Iraqi troops, a driver detonated a car near a police checkpoint in the Amriya neighborhood. Three police officers were killed.

The sheer number of attacks left Iraqis here with a deep feeling of rage and helplessness.

"What can we do?" said Khalaf Shalesh, who was standing by the hospital bed of one of the wounded police officers. "We want to help Iraqis. But this keeps happening."

Another man, whose son was seriously injured Saturday night near his home in a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad that is between a U.S. base and an insurgent hideout, expressed similar frustrations.

"Rockets come from one side, and Americans are on the other," said Hassan Hamid. "We're a poor neighborhood, and it's getting destroyed. We don't want to fight."

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