In Iraq, at least six more Iraqi civilians have been killed by suspected insurgents, three of them when a bomb exploded outside a hotel in the southern city of Basra. It was the second time an Iraqi hotel has been targeted in as many days. The increasing violence against civilians comes as Iraq approaches the one year anniversary of the start of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.
In addition to those killed in Basra, three Iraqis working for the U.S. backed Iraqi Media Network were shot dead Thursday as they were driving north of Baghdad.
These new attacks on civilians came just a day after a devastating car bomb destroyed a Baghdad hotel. In the confusion of the blast, the death toll was initially put as high as 28, but was lowered to seven Thursday. American General Mark Kimmitt says authorities have yet to determine if the bomber was acting on behalf of any particular group.
"It's still unknown who was responsible for this act. It was a suicide bomber," he said. "The suicide bomber perished as part of the explosion. The intelligence has not yet pointed back to any particular group."
As the one year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war approaches, U.S. military officials have been suggesting the security situation is improving, despite the recent increase in attacks against foreign and Iraqi civilians. Late Thursday, two more Baghdad hotels were hit with rockets but apparently caused no casualties.
Military analyst and retired U.S. Army Colonel Ken Allard sees the violence as an effort to intimidate anyone working with occupation forces.
"It simply shows that, at least in the minds of the insurgents, all of these are legitimate military targets," he said.
President Bush addressed troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky Thursday, calling the hotel bombing in Baghdad a day earlier a test of American resolve and drawing cheers from soldiers when he mentioned the fate of Saddam Hussein.
"And so in one year's time, Saddam Hussein has gone from a palace, to a bunker, to a spider hole, to jail," he said.
But for the second time this week, another major U.S. ally is voicing criticism of the handling of Iraq. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, whose military commands nearly 10,000 multi-national forces there, told reporters he feels he was misled into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, none of which have been found. But he added it does not make sense to pull Poland's forces out of Iraq right now, noting they are there to help stabilize the country.
On Monday, Spain's incoming prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero called the U.S.-led war a 'disaster' and threatened to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq if they are not put under United Nations control.