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Iraq's insurgency continues at a fierce pace

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide car bomber on Monday morning ripped into a checkpoint outside of the U.S. stronghold in Baghdad, home of Iraq's interim government and the U.S. Embassy. At least nine Iraqis were killed and 22 were injured.

Witnesses said the blast came so suddenly that they didn't know what sort of car was involved—only that it left bodies and blood spread across the ground.

Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly took responsibility. Officials at the two hospitals that received the dead and wounded said nine Iraqis were killed, though the number might have been higher because family members might have taken remains away.

A second car bomb hit a convoy of Humvees in northern Baghdad on Monday morning, wounding three soldiers and an Iraqi.

The insurgency in Iraq—which includes nationalists, foreign fighters and Saddam Hussein loyalists—is still ferocious. Fighting continues even in areas where the U.S. military has launched large-scale operations.

On Sunday, seven Marines were killed in two separate incidents in the al-Anbar region, which includes the restive towns of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Firefights and U.S. air strikes have continued in Fallujah since a Marine-Army operation recaptured the town in November. Since the beginning of December, at least 15 troops have been killed in the province.

Although the Marines did not specify where or how their men died in al-Anbar, citing operational security, a top officer there confirmed that efforts to pick through every house in Fallujah are plagued by ambushes and gun battles.

Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, deputy of operations for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah, wrote in an e-mail that there are 21,656 structures the Marines are in clearing.

"Increasingly, we are uncovering tunnel networks, sewer systems and hidden rooms that they have been using to hide in, or to move from one location to another," he said. "What we are uncovering are small groups (one to six) insurgents who have managed to move around, or evade our forces.

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"... In many instances, they are hiding under beds, or in spider holes, then firing at the last second in very close quarters. We have also found evidence of the insurgents getting high on drugs before attacking in a drug-induced state."

Wilson emphasized that the number of attacks last week was 58 percent lower than during the assault on Fallujah, Nov. 4-11.

"We have the insurgents on the run," he said.

An insurgent commander who gave his name as Ismail al-Dulame sees things differently. The 47-year-old Iraqi, who met with a Knight Ridder correspondent in a house outside of Fallujah, commands 20 insurgents or, as he called them, "lions."

Wearing a dark blue dishdasha—the traditional Arab tunic—and speaking in a rough voice, al-Dulame said that while insurgents took massive casualties in Fallujah, they are regrouping and continuing to fight.

"We are the ones who choose the time, the field and the style of attacks," he said. When explosions boomed nearby, he said they were insurgent mortar rounds falling on U.S. forces.

"Believe me," al-Dulame said, "the fight is going to continue, and we will do whatever it takes. ... There is no one leader or one group. It is more than that. It is a fire that started in many places, and it is going to form a big fire that will isolate the invaders ... and burn them."

In Baghdad, Kifah Khudhair, a 41-year-old Iraqi woman, lay in a hospital bed after Monday's car bombing. She and her brother-in-law were driving to do some shopping when they were sideswiped by the blast. A dark gray blanket covered her legs.

"After the explosion happened I lost consciousness. When I woke up I found myself in the hospital with a bullet hole through both of my legs," she said. "There were no Americans there, so I assume the Iraqi police shot me when they began firing randomly."

Her 20-year-old son, Abbas Hussein, was standing at the side of Khudhair's bed. His eyes raced from the floor to his mother. Although Zarqawi took credit for the car bomb, Hussein's rage was directed at the Americans.

"What can we do? These things happen every day, like looting and murder," he said, his voice rising. "I am angry at the Americans because it is all their fault. This is all because of them."

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(Special correspondent Omar Jassim contributed to this report, as did a special correspondent near Fallujah, who isn't named to protect his safety.)

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

Iraq

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