| An injured six-year-old boy lies in a Baghdad hospital. (AFP)
Baghdad, March 29 (Reuters): An Iraqi suicide bomber killed four American soldiers at a military checkpoint today and Iraq promised there would be more such attacks on invading US forces.
As US planes kept up withering air strikes on Baghdad, a US official said a car exploded at a checkpoint near the Shia shrine city of Najaf, about 160 km to the south, killing the driver and four soldiers searching it.
“Any method that stops or kills the enemy will be used,” Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan told a news conference, paying tribute to the suicide bomber. “The US will turn the whole world into martyrs against it.”
A state television presenter, describing the attack as a “blessed beginning on the road of sacrifice and martyrdom”, said President Saddam Hussein had awarded medals to the dead bomber, an army officer.
Iraqi television named the dead bomber as Ali Hammadi al-Namani and said he had killed 11 Americans, not four.
The suicide attack, the first against US-led forces since they invaded Iraq on March 20, threatens to complicate Washington’s task of defending long supply lines and preparing for a major battle for Baghdad.
US officers in the field said there would be a pause in the advance on Baghdad for four to six days to consolidate supply lines. Commanders said they would press on with the war on many fronts.
Ramadan lambasted the US and British governments. “They are bragging that a B-52 bomber can... kill 500 people at a time... That’s why people are transforming themselves into bombs,” he said.
“One day, we will see that one martyr operation will kill 5,000 instead of the 500 you kill with your bombs.”
A US spokesman, Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, said earlier that the car bomb appeared to be a “terrorist” attack by an organisation that was getting “a little bit desperate”, adding that it would not affect military operations.
A US military spokesman said 30 Apache helicopters had attacked Republican Guards southwest of Baghdad, killing at least 50 troops and destroying about 25 vehicles.
Renuart said at war command headquarters in Qatar that operations were continuing “exactly on the plan that we would like”, and Iraqi attacks had not halted logistical support. “There is no pause on the battlefield. Just because you see a particular formation pause on the battlefield it does not mean there is a pause,” he declared.
A defence official in Washington said troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division had been placed near Nassiriya, 375 km southeast of Baghdad, to boost security for convoys.
Renuart said some cruise missiles aimed at Iraq had fallen on US ally Saudi Arabia, forcing planners to suspend certain routes for launches to avoid endangering Saudi civilians.
The US says it was checking to see whether its forces were responsible for a devastating explosion in a crowded Baghdad market yesterday evening. A hospital doctor said the toll from the attack had risen to 62 dead and 49 wounded.
Shias in the stricken Shula district voiced fury at the US. Many were also angry that Iraqi missile launchers and anti-aircraft guns had been sited in their neighbourhood.
In the overnight blitz on Baghdad, at least one cruise missile crashed into the roof of the information ministry, wrecking aerials and satellite dishes.
Close to Baghdad
President George W. Bush said American-led forces were less than 80 km from Baghdad and were fighting the “most desperate” Iraqi army units before a battle for the capital.
He also stepped up criticism of Saddam’s government in a bid to rally public opinion behind the war in the face of mounting questions about its tactics and duration.
“Every atrocity has confirmed the justice and urgency of our cause,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Achieving Bush’s goal of complete victory seemed some way off, however, with US columns finding their advance hampered by Iraqi resistance and supply problems. “We have almost out-run our logistics lines,” one officer said in the northernmost stretch of the US thrust.