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At least 30 dead in suicide bombing, battle in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide bombing near a police academy in Kirkuk and fighting near the city of Mosul left at least 30 people dead in Iraq on Saturday.

Included in that toll were at least 14 police officers and trainees and three other people who were killed in the Kirkuk bombing. The blast also injured 33 other people, scattered debris well over 100 yards and left several vehicles blazing, the Ministry of Health reported.

The bomber timed the attack for maximum damage when hundreds of police officers were exiting the academy and heading home.

To the northwest, in the town of Tal Afar near Mosul, U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi National Guard were drawn into heavy fighting after they attacked an alleged terrorist cell, according to a spokeswoman for coalition forces. The Tal Afar insurgents wounded three Iraqi Guard soldiers and brought down a U.S. Kiowa helicopter, though the crew members escaped with minor injuries after U.S. forces secured the landing site.

Two suspected insurgents were killed and 18 more were detained, the spokeswoman said.

Local hospitals reported 50 wounded and 13 dead, most of them civilians. Many of them were injured when a mortar round reportedly landed in a town market.

Saturday's attacks were the latest in a 16-month-old insurgency against coalition forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government.

Both the Tal Afar conflict and the bombing were "very much in the same pattern of what we've seen, whether it's from the religious elements or the ex-Saddamists," said Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry.

While Iraq's fledgling police force has been a frequent target of the insurgents, Kadhim said the force is slowly building a rapport with the Iraqi people.

"They realize the police are there to help the people. We are not the army. We are not there to kill anybody, quite the opposite," Kadhim said.

Although past attacks on police have made recruitment difficult, Kadhim said that was beginning to change.

"For the past few weeks we find that the police are very determined. They are trying to recruit their relatives, their friends," Kadhim said.

In Baghdad, mortar rounds exploded in two spots just outside the coalition-protected Green Zone. Rounds landed near the zone's convention center, where Iraq's transitional assembly was meeting. More rounds landed near the al Rashid hotel.

Also Saturday, insurgents sabotaged an oil pipeline near the southern city of Basra. The attack forced the oil ministry to shut down the pipeline, but the damage was not significant enough to seriously crimp Iraq's ability to produce or export oil.

There was no further word on the status of two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were kidnapped as they traveled to Najaf on Aug. 19. A group called the Islamic Army of Iraq claimed responsibility for the abductions and demanded the French government rescind a new law that forbids Muslim students from wearing headscarves in school.

The French government refused the demand, but has conducted talks with the group. French officials said Saturday they were hopeful that Chesnot and Malbrunot would be released.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.