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Another Day of Deadly Violence as 41 Iraqis are Found Dead

March 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Robert Worth, welcome. There were two gruesome discoveries announced today of bodies found in different parts of Iraq. What can you tell us about those killings and who might have been behind them?

ROBERT WORTH: Yeah, 20 bodies were found northwest of Baghdad near the Syrian border. Those included civilians and women. And then the other discovery was south of Baghdad where 15 people — and these were headless bodies — were discovered yesterday.

The ones discovered today near Syria, it’s not clear –some of them had been shot in the head — it’s not clear whether they had been decapitated. But certainly it’s pretty grizzly stuff. It’s reminiscent of December, when over 100 bodies were found, many of them decapitated in Mosul in the North.

You know, we believe that some of the people that were discovered south of Baghdad were, in fact, Iraqi police or army soldiers. Most of the bodies that were discovered in the North back in December were soldiers. It’s part of the insurgency’s campaign against the Iraqi army and police so presumably this is a continuation of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, in fact, was a particularly bloody day there, including a large truck bomb where you are in Baghdad this morning. Tell us about the area where that took place and what’s known about who might have been behind it.

ROBERT WORTH: Yeah, the truck bomb was just outside the Sadeer Hotel, which is a couple blocks east of Fardus Square, which is the square where the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down famously on April 9, 2003. It’s known as a place where western security contractors stay, so presumably that was why it was targeted.

It was unusually early this time. It was at 6:30 A.M. In fact, the hotel was quite close to where we stayed here, and it was a massive car bomb, it was inside a garbage truck. There was some shooting first. And what we were told is that that was some of the insurgents who were firing or blasting their way in to the parking lot by the hotel. And then the explosion went off.

It’s actually very lucky what happened in the sense that only one person was killed, an Iraqi policemen, we’re told. There may have been a couple other killed. But right now we think it’s just one. About 30 Americans were injured, but it was in a big parking lot. And we’re told that as many as 30 cars were completely destroyed.

There was a huge black cloud that rose over that part of Baghdad. And as often happens in these kinds of attacks, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the militant who takes responsibility for a lot of these things, issued a statement on Islamist Internet sites saying that he carried it out.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were several other bombings today. There was an assassination attempt against an Iraqi minister. Given this spate of violence what are the authorities now saying about the strength of the insurgency?

ROBERT WORTH: It’s clear that they still have the power to launch attacks pretty much at will. One surprise today was that there actually was an attack where two people were killed in Basra in the South. That hasn’t happened much recently. It’s mostly been in Central and Northern Iraq.

It’s pretty risky to say how strong the insurgency is. But one thing we can say is that there have been a lot of announcements from Zarqawi’s group on the Web, and some of them sound a little bit defensive. Certainly ideologically anyway the elections which went pretty peacefully were a blow to these people. And they feel that it’s up to them to sow a lot of confusion and havoc before a government is actually formed.

As you know, negotiations are happening right now to form a government and to appoint a prime minister, a president. In the meantime, they’re clearly — the insurgents are doing their best to try to disrupt that process.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, finally Robert today, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that the U.S. must take responsibility and challenged once again the U.S. version of what happened when an Italian intelligence officer was killed and journalist was wounded.

The U.S. yesterday promised a quick inquiry. Can you tell us anything about that inquiry, how it will take place, what they’re looking at exactly?

ROBERT WORTH: We can’t tell you much about it because they’re being pretty tight lipped about it. But we can certainly say that a lot of things remain unclear about what exactly is happening that night.

The questions are: Was it, in fact, a checkpoint? The Americans have said that it was a checkpoint. But the Italians are suggesting that it wasn’t really any kind of formal checkpoint. It may have been just a couple of Humvees there. And then perhaps most importantly, did the soldiers, as they say they did, flash lights, give hand signals, all kinds of gestures, shooting in the air, to warn the Italians to stop?

As you know, Berlusconi and his foreign minister have said that the car stopped immediately when a light flashed. So those are pretty starkly different versions. I think this investigation is trying to answer those questions.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Robert Worth of The New York Times, thanks very much.

ROBERT WORTH: Thank you.