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Suicide attackers strike Karbala

KARBALA, Iraq—In the biggest multiple suicide attack in post-war Iraq, four bombers blasted the southern city of Karbala on Saturday, leaving shattered glass and blood sprayed across the streets of one of the holiest cities in the Muslim world.

Twelve Iraqis and six coalition troops were killed, and more than 100 Iraqis and 26 coalition troops were wounded, said Brig. Gen. Marek Ojrzanowski, who commands the multinational military force in the area.

The coordinated attacks began at about 1 p.m. local time and occurred within about 20 minutes of one another, Ojrzanowski said. The first came in front of a Bulgarian military post on the Karbala University campus. A suicide bomber driving a tanker truck laden with artillery shells rigged as a bomb—like the roadside bombs common in Baghdad—set off an explosion just outside the perimeter, killing four Bulgarian soldiers.

A guard shot and killed the driver, but the truck was probably detonated by a remote control device, Ojrzanowski said. Just after the bomb went off, shooters in the area opened up with small arms fire.

The next attack was at a logistics base in a Karbala suburb that had some 1,000 Polish, Thai and American troops. Two vehicles, probably pick-ups, with similar artillery shell bombs detonated at the outside fence, killing two Thai soldiers at the gate.

Then a bomb was detonated in front of a building that contains the offices of the mayor and a police department precinct. The blast at the main gate killed 12 Iraqis, most of whom were Iraqi police or protective services officers, and wounded more than 100 civilians.

Karbala, 60 miles south of Baghdad, is the site of the shrine of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a martyr to Shiite Muslims, the majority sect in Iraq.

An explosion in Karbala on Nov. 3 killed three Iraqis, and in October there were clashes between Shiite factions in the city. But none of the violence had been on the scale of Saturday's attacks.

While many in town said they blamed fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein, who brutally suppressed the Shiites, it was not clear who was responsible.

Ratep Muhassin, whose son Ra'ad was badly injured by shrapnel to his stomach, said he could barely believe the day had happened.

"I don't know what to feel," he said. "My son can die at any moment."

Iraq as a whole has suffered a wave of violence this past week. For several days in a row, Baghdad was shaken by a combination of insurgents' mortars and rockets and a barrage of artillery fire by U.S. troops. On Dec. 22, a judge was shot to death in the northern city of Mosul, and two U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb in Baghdad.

On Christmas Eve, a homemade bomb killed a soldier in Baghdad, and there was a car bombing in front of the Interior Ministry in Irbil, in northern Iraq. On Christmas Day, mortars killed two soldiers in Ba'qubah, north of Baghdad. The next day, a roadside bomb killed another soldier in ad Duluiyah, north of the capital.

In Baghdad, the U.S.-led coalition announced $1 million rewards for the remaining 12 most-wanted members of Saddam's former regime. The detained dictator's top aide and trusted confidant, Izzat Ibrahim al Duri, is now the top fugitive in Iraq, with a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

In Karbala, the main hospital posted handwritten lists of the names of dozens of wounded people. A crowd of men jostled in front of it, searching for family members.

Ali Kamel, clutching an ID card, pushed his way to the front.

"I've been looking for my cousin all day," he said. "I keep searching and searching."

Inside the hospital, there was bed after bed filled with Iraqis whose limbs, stomachs and faces were torn by shrapnel and debris.

A nurse, Sa'ad Saleh, said the emergency room treated about 130 people. Most of them were released.

Among the injured was Ali Fathel, who said he was walking to his uncle's house near the coalition base when the bomb there went off. A soldier came running out of the base and saw him running away, Fathel said, and before he could put his hands in the air, the soldier shot him in the thigh.

In another room, Jasim Sukher grimaced as family members helped lift him from a wheelchair into a bed. A construction worker, Sukher was chiseling off some weak plaster in the mayor's office when, he said, "I heard the explosion and then I felt nothing." There were thick pieces of metal in his right wrist and left leg.

His brother, Fathel Sukher, who was working next to him, said glass flew everywhere and "there was so much dust in the air I couldn't see my hand in front of my face."

But he picked his brother up on his shoulder and carried him through the chaos and into the street, past screaming people and burning cars.

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(Knight Ridder correspondent Hannah Allam contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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