BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents struck back with a vengeance following a post-election lull, waylaying a minibus carrying new Iraqi army recruits, firing on Iraqis heading for work at a U.S. base and gunning down an Iraqi soldier in the capital, officials said Thursday. Two U.S. Marines were killed in action.
At least 20 people, including the Marines, died in insurgent-related incidents starting Wednesday night, according to U.S. and Iraqi reports. Insurgents had eased up on attacks following Sunday’s elections, when American and Iraqi forces imposed sweeping security measures to protect the voters.
In the deadliest incident, insurgents stopped the minibus south of Kirkuk, ordered army recruits off the vehicle and gunned down 12 of them, said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin. The rebels allowed two of the soldiers to go free and ordered them to warn others against joining Iraq (news – web sites)’s U.S.-backed security forces, he said.
The assailants identified themselves as members of Takfir wa Hijra, an Islamic group that emerged in the 1960s in Egypt, rejecting society as corrupt and seeking to establish a utopian Islamic community.
Elsewhere, gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying Iraqi contractors Thursday to jobs at a U.S. military base in Baqouba north of the capital, killing two people, officials said. Two civilians were killed and six injured Wednesday night when insurgents fired mortar shells at a U.S. base in Tal Afar, 30 miles west of Mosul.
A car bomb exploded at a house used by U.S. military snipers in Qaim, near the Syrian border, witnesses said. Other U.S. troops responding to the scene opened fire, hitting some civilians, the witnesses said. A U.S. military spokesman had no immediate information.
In the south, gunmen overran a police station in the city of Samawah, killing one Iraqi policeman and injuring two others Wednesday night, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported. Japanese troops are based outside Samawah.
An Iraqi soldier was killed Thursday as assailants opened fire as he was leaving his home in Baghdad, officials said. The governor of Anbar province, a rebel stronghold west of the capital, escaped assassination Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded near his car in Ramadi.
Gov. Qaoud al-Namrawi was not harmed, but a woman was injured when his guards opened fire.
Both Marines were killed in clashes Wednesday in Anbar province, which includes such restive cities and towns as Ramadi, Fallujah and Qaim.
The upsurge in violence occurred shortly after interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi declared that the success of Iraq’s elections had dealt a major blow to the insurgency and predicted victory over the rebels within months.
Allawi cited a drop in violence immediately after Sunday’s balloting, although he said it was too early to tell if a trend had begun.
“They might be reorganizing themselves and changing their plans,” Allawi told Iraqi television. “The coming days and weeks will show whether this trend will continue … But the final outcome will be failure. They will continue for months but this (insurgency) will end.”
Iraqis turned out in large numbers to vote for a 275-seat National Assembly, provincial councils and a regional parliament for the autonomous Kurdish north. But in large areas of the country where the Sunni Arab-led insurgency still roils, few went to the polls, either because of objections to the holding elections under foreign occupation or for fear of retribution.
Because many Sunni’s stayed away from the polls, influential Sunni clerics — including many who had called for a boycott — are now challenging the legitimacy of the balloting and the government that will emerge from it.
Fears have emerged that the election outcome could leave the country’s Sunni Arab minority further alienated and continue to fuel the Sunni-led insurgency.
Reconciling the Sunni Arab minority, which accounts for 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, will be a key challenge for the new parliament, which is expected to be dominated by Shiite Muslim political factions.
Allawi, a secular Shiite, and his major Shiite Muslim election rivals have made efforts to reach out to the Sunnis, promising them a major role in drafting the new constitution even though many Sunnis shunned the ballot. Drafting a permanent charter is one of the central tasks of the new parliament.
“Definitely the Sunni Muslims will take part in the government and will have a role in the drafting of constitution,” Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the main Shiite political faction, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.
A group of leading Sunni clerics on Wednesday issued their first statement since the election, calling the vote illegitimate and saying they would not participate in the writing a constitution.
The Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars, which had called for an election boycott, said the new government would lack legitimacy because many Sunnis stayed home on election day.
“We cannot participate in the drafting of a constitution written under military occupation,” said association spokesman, Mohammed Bashar al-Feidhi.
Allawi said he would meet Thursday with representatives of groups that did not take part in the elections but names of the participants were not released.