Two hostages killed in Iraq on day of violence


IRAQ: Militants in Iraq have killed two Pakistani hostages and have released an Iraqi, Al Jazeera television said last night, writes Michael Howard in Baghdad

News of the deaths came after a day of attacks across Iraq which left more than 100 people dead as insurgents signalled their determination to disrupt the country's political process and derail the reconstruction effort.

Al Jazeera said it had received a video tape showing the killing of the Pakistanis but it would not air it as it was too gruesome.

The kidnappers had vowed in a videotape shown on Al Jazeera on Monday that they would kill the Pakistanis and threatened to do the same to the Iraqi if their employer did not halt operations in Iraq. They said they freed the Iraqi after he "recanted".

Yesterday was Iraq's bloodiest day since the US handed over sovereignty to an Iraqi administration led by the Prime Minister, Mr Iyad Allawi, on June 28th.

The violence came three days ahead of a national conference, proposed by the UN that will bring together 1,000 delegates from Iraq's disparate ethnic, religious and tribal communities to elect an interim national assembly.

The worst attack occurred in the central Iraqi city of Baquba, 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, where a minibus bomb exploded outside a police recruiting post, killing 70 people and injuring more than 30. The authorities said it was a suicide attack.

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

There were also shootings and clashes in the western city of Ramadi, and the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

Central Baghdad, meanwhile, descended into chaos after a rocket hit a busy street, killing two people and wounding four, including three children.

In the Baquba attack, the target was a group of police recruits outside the al-Najda police station.

According to Maj Gen Walid Khalid Abdul Salaam, the chief of police, a minibus packed with explosives devastated buildings and vehicles in the area, which is also near a bustling marketplace.

Another passing minibus was destroyed by the blast, which killed all 21 passengers inside.

Police and residents loaded the dead and injured into ambulances and pick-up trucks.

"All of us are Iraqis; there are no Americans here," shouted one survivor, his shirt hanging in tatters from his shoulders.

A spokeswoman for the ministry of health said last night that 70 people had been killed and 30 injured by the blast. She said some of the injuries were so severe that the number of deaths was expected to increase.

The city in the Sunni triangle, which has a mixed population of Sunni Arabs, Shia and Kurds, has witnessed regular insurgent activity since the fall of Saddam's regime in April 2003.

Gen Abdul Salaam said officials had recently noticed an upsurge in Islamic activity in the area, and 23 people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in yesterday's attack.

The Iraqi police force, regarded as "collaborators" by insurgents, are a frequent target for suicide bombers.

Despite the tough rhetoric of Mr Allawi, it is clear the multi-layered insurgency continues at disturbing levels.

The attacks have killed scores of US troops and hundreds of Iraqi civilians. There is scant evidence that the various parts of the resistance - whether former Saddam loyalists, Islamist militants, Shia militia or foreign fighters - regard Mr Allawi's government as legitimate.

And the authorities appear resigned to further attacks, at least in the short to medium term.

"We have to accept that the terrorist threat will be with us for some time to come," said Mr Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister. - (Guardian Service)