Six killed in Iraq violence; Australia puts Zarqawi on terror list

BAGHDAD - At least two people were killed on Saturday when a bomb exploded near the headquarters of Iraq’s leading Sunni Muslim religious organisation, as four others died in attacks elswhere and a number of Iraqis were reported snatched in a spate of kidnappings.

The violence rumbled on a day after four US soldiers and 13 Iraqis were killed and three British soldiers jailed for abusing Iraqi civilians.

It also came as the extremist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda supremo in Iraq and one of the world’s most-wanted men, was banned under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws.

Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for bombings, kidnappings and murders in Iraq, including the recent bombing of the Australian embassy in which two Iraqis were killed and two Australian soldiers wounded.

A group linked to Zarqawi claimed responsibility for an attack Friday that killed three of the US soldiers.

A pamphlet handed out north of Baghdad, signed by the Omar al-Hadid Brigade, said “Tarmiya was the tomb of dozens of their soldiers who were given a lesson that they will never forget.” It pledged yet more “painful strikes” against the US Army in the coming five days.

Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock said “the advice is that (Zarqawi’s) organisation has played a significant role in a large number of identified attacks that have occurred in Iraq. Our interest is to have the organisation prescribed.”

Ruddock said any Australian found involved with Zarqawi would be charged.

Amid the daily diet of ambushes and bombings, a US general has ruled out a timeline for a full transfer of security to Iraqi security as the political bargaining for a new government, premier and president lumbered on.

Two people were killed and two wounded in Baghdad when a bomb went off as a car passed near the Umm al-Qura mosque, headquarters of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, which groups Iraq’s senior Sunni clerics, said witnesses and medics.

Three Iraqi women died when mortar rounds struck homes in the area around Dhuluiyah, said security sources.

And on the main road between the northern oil capital of Kirkuk and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, a Turkish driver burnt to death in the cabin of his truck after it was hit by an anti-tank rocket, police said.

More than 20 other Iraqis were wounded in two mortar attacks near the rebel cities of Samarra and Balad, police and medics said.

South of Baghdad, an insurgent died when when his car exploded prematurely near a police roadblock in the town of Mussaieb, said police.

Meanwhile, police said 11 people, including four women, a policeman and two civil servants, have been kidnapped in a string of abductions since Friday in the same area south of Baghdad, known as the “triangle of death”.

Gunmen snatched the four women in four separate incidents in the towns of Latifiyah and Mahmudiyah on Friday.

Two of them had been travelling back with their families from pilgrimage to the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala when they were ambushed on the road.

In Germany, three British soldiers were jailed Friday for abusing Iraqi civilians and were dishonourably discharged from the army.

Corporal Daniel Kenyon, 33, was jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of three charges.

Lance Corporal Mark Cooley, 25, was jailed for two years for disgraceful and cruel conduct for driving a forklift truck with a bound Iraqi suspended from the prongs.

Lance Corporal Darren Larkin, 30, was sentenced to five months in jail after he pleaded guilty to assault. He had been pictured standing on an Iraqi.

Britain’s army chief, General Mike Jackson, and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon apologized to Iraqis for the soldiers’ behavior.

Jackson said he was “appalled and disappointed” when he first saw photographs of the Iraqis being mistreated at a camp near Basra in May 2003, which emerged at the trial.

As political maneuvring for a new Iraqi government continued back in Baghdad, a US general said there was still no timeline for US troops to fully hand authority to their Iraqi counterparts.

Major General William Webster, who takes over responsibility for security in Baghdad on Sunday, said such a move, a mantra for US officials and military leaders since the 2003 invasion, would be ”event-driven”.

The Iraqi army numbers more than 50,000 soldiers. The government has said it wants 100,000 troops trained by July and 150,000 by year-end.

On the diplomatic front, interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar received an invitation from Algerian National Assembly President Abdul Kader Ben Saleh to attend the March 22-23 annual Arab League summit to be held in Algiers.

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