The deadliest attack occurred late Tuesday when insurgents tipped off local police to a suspected hideout in Baghdad. When police entered the building, a tremendous explosion leveled the house and at least three neighboring structures.
“When the police arrived and went in, the house blew up,” an interior ministry spokesman said. “It seems to have been a trap.”
At least 32 people, including seven police, died in the explosion and another 21 were injured.
American officials said the overnight attack illustrated the callous nature of the militants.
“The insurgent has no respect for life and an insurgent is anti-Islam,” Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division that controls Baghdad, told the Associated Press.
The late night attack came on the same day in which at least two dozen other police and national guard died in attacks around the country. In one bloody assault in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, militants overran a local police station, executed 12 officers and then blew up the station. In another attack, four other Iraqi national guardsmen were found shot and beheaded south of Baghdad.
Iraqi officials also acknowledged the body of the body of the deputy governor of the troubled western Anbar province had been found Tuesday.
A statement left with the body of Moayyad Hardan al-Issawi said, “This is the fate of everyone who deals with the American troops,” and was signed by a group calling itself Holy Warriors of Anbar, according to an Associated Press report.
Other clashes were reported in the southern city of Samarra and in the northern city of Mosul where a suicide truck bomber detonated his tanker near U.S. forces. There was no word on casualties, but fighting continued in Mosul throughout Wednesday.
The Iraqi government has claimed some successes in the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign. On Wednesday, the government released a statement saying its forces had captured a regional leader of a group allied with Jordanian fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The government said the 33-year-old militant, known only as Abu Marwan, had admitted a role in leading the Mosul-based group Abu Talha and in participating in the suicide attack on the U.S. base in Mosul that killed 18 Americans and three Iraqis.
“Abu Marwan was responsible for conducting and commanding terrorist operations in Mosul, purchasing weapons for Talha’s terrorist group, and coordinating the training of terrorist cells within the Abu Talha terrorist group,” it said.
The continued insurgent assaults and growing Sunni anger continued to complicate the political equation ahead of next month’s planned election. Iraq’s top Sunni Muslim Party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said Monday it was withdrawing from the Jan. 30 polls, citing concerns that bloodshed largely focused on Sunni-dominated areas in the north and west parts of the country would suppress the vote.
President Bush said Wednesday all efforts were being made to stabilize areas of the country to allow voting, but stressed Sunnis should not boycott the process just because one of their parties had bowed out.
“I talked to President Yawer yesterday, who happens to be a Sunni, who on the one hand expressed concern about the security situation in Mosul, on the other hand reminded me that most people in Iraq, Sunni or Shia, want to vote,” President Bush told reporters in Texas Wednesday. “And so the task at hand is to provide as much security as possible for the election officials as well as for the people inside cities like Mosul to encourage them to express their will.”
Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Conn., who was in Iraq to meet with religious, military and political leaders, said he believed the elections would still result in a watershed moment for the region.
“Iraq will be a historic breakthrough for democracy in the Arab world, but also a breakthrough for how one can have a government in which religious forces, people of faith in God, play an important role, but a role that ultimately is inclusive and tolerant,” Lieberman told reporters in Baghdad.
American military commanders warned that ahead of the vote, violence will almost certainly intensify.
“We anticipate that the enemy will (continue with) attacks, intimidation, assassinations and other messages designed to destroy life in Baghdad,” Hammond said, adding that Iraqi forces will carry out most operations aimed at providing security for the elections.