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Attacks Continue in Iraq as Anniversary of US-Led Invasion Approaches - 2004-03-18


Mortar attacks and bombings continued in Iraq Thursday as the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches. V-O-A'S Greg LaMotte in Cairo reports military officials are blaming some of the violence on Muslim militants linked to al-Qaida.

For the second day in a row insurgents attacked hotels in Iraq, this time in the southern city of Basra. A bomb exploded Thursday at a hotel in the center of the city, which has been used regularly by the British military for news briefings.

Wednesday night, a car packed with some 500 kilos of explosives blew up near a small hotel in Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others.

West of Baghdad, in the city of Fallujah, guerrillas Thursday fired rocket-propelled grenades at the municipal council building. American troops returned fire.

And, northeast of Baghdad in the city of Baquba, a bomb attack occurred Thursday killing and wounding more than a dozen people.

U.S. military officials blame the attacks on forces loyal to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Muslim militants with links to the terrorist group al-Qaida.

The former director of Egypt's Strategic Center of Armed Forces, Hossam Sowaillam, said he agrees. The former Egyptian army general said insurgents from other countries are determined to see rebuilding efforts in Iraq fail.

"They are not only those who are pro-Saddam but those fanatics coming across the border from Iran, from Syria, from other countries especially al-Qaida and bin Laden," he explained. "What is the good thing that is happening is that the Iraqis themselves recognize who is their enemy, who wants to undermine all tries to rebuild Iraq. They recognize this very well. Even the Arab newspapers and the mass media in the Arab world and among the Arab people recognize it is not national resistance against the Americans, it is terrorist action against rebuilding Iraq."

Most of the attacks in Iraq have been directed against Iraqi targets. Military officials say they expect attacks to increase with the approach of the one-year anniversary of the invasion Friday. They also believe attacks will continue leading up to the end of June, when the transfer of power from the Americans to the Iraqis is scheduled to take place.

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