Baghdad, June 26 (Reuters): Grenade attacks killed an Iraqi and wounded two Americans on the outskirts of Baghdad today as even Iraqis who loathed Saddam Hussein said they were seething against the US-led occupation.
The attacks came as an Arab television station reported that former Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who earned the nickname “Comical Ali” during the Iraq war, handed himself in to US forces, but that they released him after questioning. Al Arabiya TV said it would air an interview with al-Sahaf at 1900 GMT tomorrow.
Angry leaders in Majjar, a town of traditionally anti-Saddam Shias, warned against attempts to arrest anyone suspected of killing six British soldiers in a gun battle there on Tuesday.
Officials said they feared saboteurs had struck Iraq’s battered oil sector again today after an explosion set an oil pipeline ablaze. With sabotage and attacks on US-led forces increasing in frequency, a former senior official of the US reconstruction team said Washington was mishandling Iraq after the war to topple Saddam.
After one of today’s attacks had destroyed a US military tractor trailer, a group of boys and men in traditional garb hurled stones at the smouldering wreck in an apparent gesture of support for the guerrilla-style ambush. “Suddenly there was an explosion...the Americans started shooting indiscriminately,” said Qassem Hassan, who was selling soft drinks nearby.
A US military spokesperson said a rocket-propelled grenade had hit the trailer, which was ferrying a smaller truck on a highway on Baghdad’s southern outskirts. Two Americans were wounded.
Earlier in the day, an explosion hit a US vehicle carrying Iraqi electrical workers in another Baghdad suburb, killing the driver and wounding one other person. “We think they were hit by an improvised explosive device in a rocket-propelled grenade,” said Colonel Guy Shields, a US army spokesperson.
Today’s oil pipeline explosion near al-Fatha near the Tigris river was Iraq’s sixth in two weeks. “I expect the incident to be another act of sabotage,” said Adal al-Kazaz, director general of Iraq’s Northern Oil Company.
Washington blames Saddam loyalists for most of the sabotage and attacks that have killed 19 US soldiers since the war was declared over on May 1.
But resentment against foreign troops is simmering even among sections of Iraq’s Shia majority, long persecuted by Saddam’s Sunni regime.
“We are very grateful to them for getting rid of Saddam Hussein,” said microbiologist Khudir Kareem Ashoor, a member of the local council in the southeastern town of Majjar.
“But we don’t need them overstepping their limits.”
Majjar was the scene of the worst single attack on invading forces in Iraq since March 23, three days after the war began.
Townspeople enraged by aggressive weapons searches killed six British soldiers on Tuesday and local leaders said they could not help British commanders looking for the killers.
“That’s impossible because we don't know who killed the British. It was chaos, there were many people,” said Ali al-Rubayee, who helps run a local culture centre.
British Major-General Peter Wall vowed to bring the killers to justice and said Tuesday’s chaotic gunbattle had been sparked by a misunderstanding between troops and residents of the town.
Wall, commander of British forces patrolling southern Iraq, told reporters in the southern city of Basra that his troops had never intended to search for weapons in Majjar on Tuesday as locals had mistakenly thought.
Wall vowed to bring the killers to justice but local leaders warned against any such attempt.
”We cannot guarantee that entering the city would be safe for the British,” said Rubayee.
Timothy Carney, who until recently had been overseeing Iraq's Industry Ministry, said Washington had failed to grasp the complexities of rebuilding a country shattered by war and riven by ethnic and religious tensions.
”Those military officers simply did not understand or give enough priority to the transition from their military mission to the political military mission,” said Carney, a former U.S. ambassador who had been working with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq.
”There was a great gap in our knowledge of what Iraq was like,” he told BBC Radio in Washington.