Coordinated Iraq attacks leave 75 dead

Iraq’s security forces bore the brunt of a wave of coordinated attacks Thursday as insurgents turned up the heat before the US-led occupation ends next week.

Some 75 people were killed and more than 260 wounded as rebels in the central cities of Baquba, Fallujah and Ramadi as well as Mosul to the north launched dawn assaults on police stations and other official buildings, sparking clashes with US military and Iraqi police.

The almost simultaneous attacks were coupled with a suicide bombing southwest of Baghdad.

A man in a police uniform detonated a suitcase outside a National Guard post, killing four Guardsmen as well as the bomber, while a suicide attack was reportedly foiled in Ramadi, 100 kilometres west of the capital.

The attacks, which were launched in Baquba, 60 kilometres north east of Baghdad, at about 5:30am local time, were all carried out before 11:00am.

“It’s the first time that they’ve had this level of coordination,” said Major Brian Paxton, a fire support and information officer for the US military in Baquba.

US airplanes dropped four 500 pound bombs on houses in the city to quell the violence triggered by suspected supporters of alleged Al Qaeda operative Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi.

Iraqi and US officials have been predicting the insurgency to escalate in the countdown to the transfer of power by the US-led coalition to an Interim Iraqi Government on June 30.

Insurgents set off bombs outside five police stations in Mosul, 370 kilometres north of Baghdad, early Thursday.

Police and military official said 44 people were killed and 216 others wounded.

In addition, for the first time since last year’s US-led invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein, street fights broke out between rebels and US forces in Mosul as well as Baquba.

The nationwide attacks were designed to cause maximum chaos before the handover of sovereignty, a senior coalition official said.

Asked about a possible linkage with Zarqawi, who is on a US list of most wanted suspects, the official said the prime suspects in the uprising were Saddam loyalists and former army members.

But he conceded there was a chance that they were joining forces with foreign fighters.

“We have talked about convergence for some, while…I think we have got to find out what we pick up in the way of prisoners today and find out what they know,” the official said.