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Bloody day in Baghdad

Militants target capital; 59 dead amid violence

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents hammered central Baghdad yesterday with one of their most intense mortar and rocket barrages ever in the heart of the capital, heralding a day of violence that killed almost 60 people nationwide as security appeared to spiral out of control.

At least 37 people were killed in Baghdad alone. Many of them died when a US helicopter fired on a disabled US Bradley Fighting Vehicle as Iraqis swarmed around it, cheering, throwing stones, and waving the black-and-yellow sunburst banner of Iraq's most-feared terrorist organization.

The dead from the helicopter strike included Arab television reporter Mazen al-Tumeizi, who screamed, "I'm dying, I'm dying," as a cameraman recorded the chaotic scene. An Iraqi cameraman working for the Reuters news agency and an Iraqi freelance photographer for Getty Images were wounded.

Maimed and lifeless bodies of young men and boys lay in the street as the stricken US vehicle was engulfed in flames and thick black smoke.

Across Iraq, the death toll yesterday was at least 59, according to the Health Ministry, the Multinational Force command, and local authorities. Nearly 200 people were wounded, more than half of them in Baghdad.

Explosions again shook the center of the Iraqi capital after sunset yesterday. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

As the early morning barrage was underway in Baghdad, insurgents attacked the infamous US-run Abu Ghraib prison on the city's western edge. Several mortar shells exploded outside the complex about 6 a.m., and about 20 minutes later a pickup truck packed with artillery shells crashed through the chain-link fence on the outer perimeter.

Marines opened fire and the vehicle exploded before reaching the main security wall, killing the driver, a military statement said.

Tawhid and Jihad, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda and led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said it carried out yesterday's coordinated campaign of violence.

In an Internet statement, the group boasted that it possesses the "capability to surprise the enemy and hit its strategic installations at the right time and place."

The statement could not be verified, but the scope and intensity of the attacks raised serious questions about the state of security, which has deteriorated since the June 28 transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government.

In the southern city of Basra, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed to pursue insurgents.

"We are adamant that we are going to defeat terrorism," Allawi said. "We intend to confront them and bring them to justice."

Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib suggested the attacks could be in response to a government operation against Baghdad's Adel neighborhood, an insurgent hotbed. However, the scope of the attacks suggested they had been in preparation for some time.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged that the US-led coalition faced a "difficult time" in Iraq but said the United States had a plan to quash the insurgency in time for elections in January.

The insurgency "will be brought under control," Powell said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "It's not an impossible task."

Ten people were killed and 40 wounded yesterday in fighting in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, said hospital director Abdel Munim Aftan.

Also, three American soldiers and two Iraqi civilians were wounded when a suicide driver blew up his car next to a US Army convoy on the road to Baghdad International Airport, American sources said. The vehicle was one of seven car bombs reported yesterday in Iraq, two of which did not explode, the sources said.

Rockets and mortar shells began raining down before dawn on the Green Zone, headquarters of the Iraqi government and its US allies, and other parts of central Baghdad.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle rushing to assist a US patrol down Haifa Street, a major traffic artery near the Green Zone, was disabled by a car bomb about 6:50 a.m., the US military said.

Jubilant fighters, curiosity seekers, and young boys swarmed around the burning vehicle. Fearing the crowd would loot the vehicle, American soldiers called for air support. Responding US helicopters, taking fire from insurgents, fired on the Bradley.

Iraq's Health Ministry said 13 people were killed and 61 wounded on Haifa Street, though it was unclear how many were killed by the helicopter strike. Scattered shoes, pools of fresh blood, and debris littered the street. 

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