Suicide car bombs hit US military position in Iraq

Three suicide car bombs hit a US military position in a restive area of western Iraq near the Syrian border, wounding at least two soldiers.

“What we have right now is three confirmed suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” First Lieutenant Kate VandenBossche, a spokeswoman for the US marines, told AFP on Monday.

She said two soldiers were injured in the early morning attack on the Camp Gannon forward operation base, adding: “We are still trying to determine if the casualties were coalition or Iraqi security forces.”

Qaim, where insurgents are suspected of regularly crossing into Iraq from Syria, is the site of frequent clashes between rebels and US forces. It lies about 300 kilometres (190 miles) west of Baghdad in Al-Anbar province.

“The blast was incredible,” said Iraqi police Lieutenant Yasir al-Hadithi, adding that US helicopters were hovering over the scene of the attack which was followed by the sound of heavy gunfire.

Despite a massive US-led assault on the former rebel bastion of Fallujah in November, the Iraqi government has been unable to reassert control over Anbar, a stronghold of Islamic fighters and Saddam Hussein loyalists.

In early March, the bodies of at least 30 people, most of them believed to be Iraqi soldiers, were found in Qaim. They had been shot.

Underscoring the relentless violence that plagues Iraq two years since the fall of Saddam’s regime, the family of Malik Muhammad Javed, a Pakistani embassy official abducted in Baghdad two days ago, were in tears over his fate.

He went missing Saturday after going to a mosque for evening prayers.

“They are all crying and consoling each other,” said Javed’s elder son, Bilal Malik, at the family’s home in Islamabad.

“We are extremely worried over the kidnapping,” he told AFP. “We appeal to the kidnappers to release our father.

“I am in touch with my eldest sister who lives in Baghdad with my father, but we have no other details,” Malik added.

Pakistan’s information minister Sheikh Rashid said his government has intensified its efforts to release Javed, who did not hold diplomatic status.

His captors had placed “some conditions” on his release, Rashid said.

“In the interest of the safety of our man and not to undermine the chances of his release, it would not be appropriate to reveal their demands,” he said.

But an unnamed official told AFP the kidnappers had demanded an unspecified amount of money.

Around 200 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq since last April when twin Shiite-Sunni uprisings shook the country and insurgents and criminals started to use kidnapping as a political tool.

Many kidnappings are motivated by cash. Often abductors will sell captives with political value to militant groups.

Iraq’s defence ministry said it had arrested a week ago a man suspected of being behind the kidnapping of two French journalists and a Syrian. The suspect was identified as Amer Hussein Shikhan.

Frenchmen Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot who were kidnapped with their Syrian driver were released in December after 124 days in capitivity.

Elsewhere, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s militant group, which is behind scores of abductions and deadly attacks in Iraq, said it kidnapped and killed Brigadier Basim Mohammed Kazem al-Jazairee, a police chief in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, according to an Internet statement.

The interior ministry confirmed that one of its senior officials, Basim Mohammed Kazem, was missing, but could not confirm if it was the same individual. Ghaleb al-Jazairee, a former Najaf police chief, told AFP he was fine and at his home in the city south of Baghdad.

On the political front, Iraq’s parliament met again on Monday to discuss internal procedures and to put some order to the often chaotic sessions.

As usual the meeting took place amid tight security measures that included bridge closings in the capital and stepped up police and army presence on the streets.

Iraq’s designated prime minister, Shiite fundamentalist Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is expected to announce the cabinet line-up within two weeks.

Leading Shiite and Kurdish politicians provided details on the emerging shape of the new cabinet that will be cut to 31 ministries from 33 posts under the previous government. The dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) would get 16 to 17 cabinet slots, including the oil, interior and finance portfolios