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Twin suicide raids kill 18 in Iraq
A mother wirth her son who was wounded in a car bomb attack in Khan Bani Saad, Iraq. (Reuters)

Baquba (Iraq), Nov. 22 (Reuters): Suicide bombers blew up cars packed with explosives outside two police stations north of Baghdad today, killing at least 18 people in the latest deadly strikes on Iraq’s US-backed police force.

In the town of Khan Bani Saad, a car sped towards a police station and detonated as Iraqi police opened fire on it, US soldiers at the scene said. Captain Ryan McCormack said six police and three civilians were killed.

Another suicide bomber targeted the main police headquarters in the nearby town of Baquba, 65 km north of Baghdad.

Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald, spokesman for the US 4th Infantry Division, said seven policemen and two civilians were killed in Baquba.

The death tolls excluded the car bombers and some witnesses said the Baquba attacker was wearing a police uniform as he drove towards the building.

“I was standing on the balcony of the police station as the car was coming towards the building,” said policeman Nazaar Hamzan. “He was wearing a uniform like mine.”

Dead and wounded from both attacks were brought to Baquba’s hospital, where blood was congealed on the floor of the wards.

“I was trying to resuscitate a four-year-old girl whose legs were blown off but she didn’t make it,” Dr Sharif Saleh said.

A huge crater was blown into the road outside the Baquba police headquarters. Nearby, a packet of cigarettes lay in a pool of blood, close to a shoe torn apart by the blast. One policeman said he found a severed hand 500 metres away.

Shards of glass were strewn inside the police station. Part of an air-conditioning unit had been blown across one room, with a police armband stuck to it. Drops of blood could be seen.

“We were in front of the police station and we heard a huge explosion,” said school principal Jamal Numaan, who witnessed the blast. “Blood came out of my ears and nose.”

Suicide attackers have struck several times at Iraqi police. On October 27, coordinated car bomb attacks on three Baghdad police stations and the International Committee of the Red Cross killed at least 35 people. Earlier that month, two suicide bombers killed eight Iraqis at another Baghdad police station.

The United States blames diehard Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign Muslim militants for attacks on US troops, foreign organisations and Iraqis cooperating with occupying forces. Since Washington declared major combat over on May 1, 182 US soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq.

American commanders say guerrillas are becoming increasingly inventive and attacks are showing signs of greater coordination. Yesterday, guerrillas used donkey carts to launch Katyusha rockets at Iraq’s oil ministry building and two fortified hotels used by Western contractors and journalists.

A third cart loaded with 21 rockets was stopped by US troops near the Italian and Turkish embassies and close to the offices of one of Iraq’s Kurdish parties. Facing a mounting death toll in Iraq, the US has unveiled a faster timetable for handing over power to Iraqis. A sovereign Iraqi government is due to be in place by the end of June next year, with elections to follow by the end of 2005.

But The New York Times quoted US army officials today as saying Washington plans to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq till early 2006. The newspaper reported that a “senior Army officer” warned that maintaining a force of such size beyond early 2006 would cause the army to “really start to feel the pain” from stress on overtaxed active-duty troops.

But the Times said another senior military official cautioned that while the senior army officer’s comments reflected prudent planning, it “has nothing to do with what the security situation on the ground might be in 18 months.”

The newspaper said the Pentagon plans to reduce the US military presence in Iraq to 105,000 by May from the current 130,000, and that while some defence officials have raised the possibility of shrinking the force even more next year, the senior officer said planners were assuming the number of US forces in Iraq would probably stay the same when the military begins its third troop rotation in 2005.

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