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Iraq Violence Claims More Lives

Iraqis Tuesday blamed an American missile for a deadly explosion at a mosque in Fallujah, and fired rocket-propelled grenades at two U.S. military vehicles.

A total of 12 Iraqis died — 10 in the Fallujah blast on Monday, and two others who were shot dead Tuesday by U.S. troops when their car failed to stop at a checkpoint.

Meanwhile, a regional governor said Tuesday that gunmen in Tikrit killed the head of the Saddam Hussein's tribe and wounded his son.

There were no arrests in Sunday's shooting of Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khattab and it was unclear if the assailants were pro-Saddam militants or had other revenge motives. Al-Khattab in recent weeks had publicly disavowed Saddam.

In other developments:

  • A huge explosion over the weekend at an ammunitions depot killed at least 15 people and injured at least four near Hadithah, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, officials said Tuesday. It was apparently caused when looters tampered with artillery shells.
  • A U.S. sweep to snuff out remaining pockets of anti-occupation resistance in the so-called "Sunni triangle" north and east of Baghdad, entered its third day. The statement said at least 319 Iraqis have been detained in several operations, though none of Iraq's most wanted fugitives are believed to be among them. There have been no reports of U.S. casualties since the sweep began, the military said.
  • A separate series of raids, Operation Desert Scorpion, has ended with the detention of some 1,300 people and the seizure of 500 automatic rifles, the Pentagon says.
  • American troops moved in force to arrest the U.S.-appointed mayor of the southern town of Najaf, 110 miles southwest of Baghdad, removing him on kidnapping and corruption charges and detaining 62 of his aides — a step likely to please Najaf's Shiite residents.
  • The top U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said the U.S.-led provisional authority was "well on track to establish an Iraqi interim administration by mid-July."

    The Americans have pledged by July 15th to set up a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis that will appoint heads of ministries and be consulted on major decisions taken by the U.S. led provisional authority.

    "The voice of freedom is upon the land," he said. "This is good news."

    However, an Iraqi cleric has issued a religious edict, or fatwa, denouncing American plans to install a hand-picked constitutional council to draft laws for the new Iraq. The cleric, Ali al-Sistani, is considered a moderate, reports The New York Times. His fatwa could signal growing frustration with U.S. rule.

    U.S. troops have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks, raising fears that their mission will become mired by a guerrilla-style insurgency. At least 20 American and six British troops have been killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

    But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insists that U.S. troops aren't getting bogged down in a "quagmire" operation in Iraq. He dismisses comparisons of the Iraqi operation to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

    On Tuesday, assailants traveling in a vehicle in the Mustansiryah neighborhood of central Baghdad fired a rocket propelled-grenade at a U.S. military vehicle, destroying it and likely causing casualties, Iraqi witnesses said. Two soldiers were seen evacuated on stretchers.

    Also Tuesday, witnesses said another rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a U.S. truck on a road 12 miles south of Baghdad. The witnesses said that attack caused four casualties but there was no immediate confirmation from the military.

    Iraqi civilians said the explosion late Monday in Fallujah was caused by a missile or bomb strike, but American soldiers at the scene disputed that account, saying it was likely caused when explosives hidden at the site went off.

    In Fallujah, witnesses said the blast took place just before 11 p.m. Monday in a small cinderblock building in the courtyard of the al-Hassan mosque. The explosion blew out the walls and took down the roof of the structure.

    Hours after the explosion, dozens of people gathered around the destroyed mosque shouting anti-American slogans amid the rubble.

    "There is no God but Allah, America is the enemy of God," they chanted, as a crane lifted large pieces of concrete from the site. An eyewitness said that after the evening prayer, he heard aircraft hovering overhead and then heard the sound of the explosion.

    Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, has been a hotbed of anti-American activity and scene of several confrontations between U.S. troops and insurgents. U.S. soldiers shot and killed 20 protesters in April, provoking widespread resentment.

    In the continuing political fallout over prewar intelligence on Iraq's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, a British opposition leader said Prime Minister Tony Blair should answer lawmakers' questions about the handling of intelligence.

    Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Blair's refusal to testify before a parliamentary committee was increasing the pressure for an independent investigation. They government has been accused of exaggerating the threat of Iraqi weapons in making a case for military action.
    According to a new survey, Americans are less certain that the teams hunting weapons of mass destruction will find any. The CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 1,003 adults, taken over the weekend, shows only 53 percent believe weapons will be found — down from 84 percent in March.

    Sixty percent do not believe the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about the Iraqi threat, but 53 percent say it would matter a great deal if they were misled. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

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