May 18, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents purportedly belonging to an al-Qaida affiliate gunned down a brigadier general in Iraq's Interior Ministry on Wednesday, the latest killing in an escalating campaign against the new government's administration and security infrastructure.
The attack came after Iran's foreign minister pledged to secure his country's borders to stop militants from entering Iraq, and as Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari prepared for his first foreign trip to neighboring Turkey.
Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Khamas was shot and killed by four gunmen in a four-door sedan as he drove through Baghdad's southeastern Zaafaraniyah district, police Col. Nouri Abdullah said. Khamas' wife and driver were wounded in the attack, he added.
In an Internet statement, al-Qaida in Iraq, the group run by Jordanian terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, describing Khamas as "one of the heads of apostasy, and one of America's tails." The authenticity of the claim, posted on a site that carries similar statements, could not be verified.
Al-Zarqawi is Iraq's most-wanted terrorist and has a $25 million bounty on his head - the same as for Osama bin Laden.
In the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, mortar attacks by insurgents killed two Iraqis and injured eight others, including seven schoolchildren, police and hospital officials said.
A car bomb also detonated in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, injuring 14 people - including two police officers. The car blew up as a three-car police convoy drove by in the city center, damaging all the vehicles, police Col. Mudhafar Muhammed said.
In Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting an American military convoy driving through the eastern part of the city injured seven Iraqis, police Lt. Col. Ahmed Aboud Efait said. There were no reports of any American casualties, he added.
Gunmen also shot dead a transport ministry driver, Ali Mutib Sakr, in Sadr City, a predominantly Shiite area in the eastern part of the capital, police Lt. Col. Shakir Wadi said.
The violence came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, during a historic visit, said the "situation would have been much worse" in Iraq if Tehran were supporting the insurgency as the United States has claimed.
Kharrazi's trip Tuesday, which came just two days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a surprise visit to support the war-ravaged country's political process, was the highest-level visit by an official from any of Iraq's six neighboring countries since Saddam Hussein's ouster two years ago.
Kharrazi - who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on a day of deepening sectarian violence - vowed that his country was committed to supporting Iraq's political and economic reconstruction and would do all it could to improve security conditions.
"We believe securing the borders between the two countries means security to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Kharrazi said.
Zebari said militants have infiltrated from Iran "but we are not saying that they are approved by the Iranian government."
Al-Jaafari will leave Iraq for his first foreign trip since taking office last month, visiting neighboring Turkey on Friday and Saturday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim of the visit "is to contribute to regional peace and environment of calm." Al-Jaafari would be accompanied by the ministers of trade, oil, electricity, industry and water resources, among others.
New British Defense Secretary John Reid also visited Iraq on Tuesday, traveling to Baghdad and Basra on his own first foreign trip. The stream of visitors is aimed at shoring up the new Iraqi leadership caught in a surge of violence that has killed more than 470 people since the government was announced April 28.
Ties between neighboring Iraq and Iran improved after the ouster of Saddam, who led an eight-year war against Iran during the 1980s that claimed more than 1 million lives. Relations remained cool after that war, with Iran supporting anti-Saddam groups and the former Iraqi leader hosting the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian militia that fought the Shiite religious regime in Tehran.
But since the U.S.-led invasion swept Saddam from power, Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community has risen to power and worked to build closer ties with Iran.
Iran, however, has been accused of supporting insurgents in Iraq to destabilize reconstruction efforts by the United States, which regards Tehran as a terror sponsor bent on producing nuclear weapons. Iran denies both claims.
Al-Jaafari, who led anti-Saddam militiamen based in Iran during part of his two-decade exile, has said Iraq now wants positive relations with Iran.
The Iranian envoy's visit comes at a time of spiraling violence fueled by foreign extremists and rival groups of Sunnis and Shiites.
U.S. troops backed by helicopters battled scores of insurgents holed up in two houses in Mosul on Tuesday, and police commander Lt. Gen. Ahmad Mohammed Khalaf claimed 20 militants were killed when U.S. aircraft destroyed the buildings. The American military said it was unaware of any casualties.
Three Islamic clerics - a Shiite and two Sunnis - were shot and killed in Baghdad, police said Tuesday, a day after Iraq's prime minister vowed to use an "iron fist" to end sectarian violence.
Another 17 Iraqis were killed Tuesday: two Iraqi officials in separate Baghdad drive-by shootings, six truck drivers delivering supplies to U.S. forces north of the capital, a former member of Saddam's Baath Party and his three grown sons, three Mosul police officers and two soldiers in Baghdad.
An American soldier was killed and a second was wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. At least 1,622 U.S. military members have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.