Militants keep Iraq on the boil

BAGHDAD, SEPT. 17. A suicide attacker detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near a row of police cars blocking off a bridge in central Baghdad, killing at least five persons and wounding 20, officials said. The attack came hours after U.S. jets pounded the militant stronghold of Fallujah, leaving at least 44 dead.

It was the second car bombing this week targeting Baghdad police forces, part of a stepped up campaign of violence to thwart U.S-backed efforts to strengthen the Iraqi security forces and bring stability to the country ahead of January elections.

Half-a-dozen cars were blocking a bridge when a car drew up to them, said a policeman. Police asked the driver to stop, but he continued to advance and exploded his vehicle in the middle of the parked cars.

63 suspects held

Across the Tigris on Haifa Street, an insurgent stronghold, security forces arrested 63 suspects, including Syrians, Sudanese and Egyptians, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

West of Baghdad, an initial wave of U.S. air strikes late Thursday targeted a compound in Fazat Shnetir, about 20 km south of Fallujah, where militants loyal to the Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting to plot attacks on coalition forces, the military said in a statement.

Air strikes on Fallujah

Early on Friday, U.S. warplanes unleashed strikes on a cluster of houses believed to be used by members of Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group inside Fallujah, the military said.

Health Ministry official Saad al-Amili said at least 44 persons were killed and 27 injured in the Fallujah strikes. The police found the corpse of a man they believed to be a Westerner about 65 km north of Baghdad. The body was pulled from the Tigris river. — AP

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