Insurgents attack Abu Ghraib

Associated Press
Published April 3, 2005

BAGHDAD - Insurgents attacked the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, injuring 20 U.S. service members and 12 prisoners on Saturday, while six people were killed elsewhere in Iraq after a period of declining attacks that had raised hopes the insurgency might be weakening.

At least 40 militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and set off two car bombs at the infamous prison as darkness fell, 1st Lt. Adam Rondeau said. Soldiers and Marines stationed at the detention facility responded, and the resulting clash and gunfight lasted about 40 minutes.

"This was obviously a very well-organized attack and a very big attack," Rondeau said.

Officials have said that overall attacks have been declining in Iraq, but they also have noted that insurgents seem to be focusing their efforts on bigger, better-organized operations.

It wasn't immediately known if any of the insurgents carrying out the attack were arrested or suffered casualties. Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the area.

Abu Ghraib was at the center of a prisoner abuse scandal that broke out in 2004 when pictures became public of soldiers piling naked inmates in a pyramid and humiliating them sexually. The United States is holding about 10,500 prisoners in Iraq.

Also Saturday, Iraqi lawmakers struggling to form a government after the historic Jan. 30 elections appeared to have reached a compromise on the parliamentary speaker's post, with the major coalitions backing Industry Minister Hajim al-Hassani as the favored candidate. Officials had said they might have to vote on several candidates, with Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance member Fawaz al-Jarba and Meshaan al-Jubouri also in the running.

But with only hours left before today's session, Jubouri said he would accept a compromise proposal in which he and Jarba would withdraw their names. Jarba couldn't be reached for comment.

All candidates for speaker were Sunni Arabs, an effort to reach out to the minority group once dominant under Saddam Hussein and believed to be the backbone of the country's insurgency.

Negotiators also said they hoped to name the country's new interim president - expected to be Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani - and his two vice presidents during today's session.

Once in his post, Talabani and the vice presidents will name the new interim prime minister, likely Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari. After that, the legislative body has until mid August to write a new constitution that will pave the way for new elections and a permanent government.

Authorities are hoping the formation of a new government that includes representatives from all of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups will help undermine the insurgency and lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

But U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledge they have a long way to go. Early Saturday, gunmen opened fire from a car in Baghdad, killing local official Hassib Zamil outside the Education Ministry offices in the Sadr City neighborhood.

A car bomb also injured six Iraqis and set a house on fire in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said. The attack happened Saturday as coalition soldiers, acting on a citizens' tip, were arriving to investigate, the U.S. military said.

It also reported that a U.S. Marine was killed by enemy fire while conducting security operations in Ramadi on Friday.

Separately, the U.S. military praised an edict issued by Sunni clerics that called for Iraqis to join police and army forces, adding that enlistees "must be prepared to serve all the people."

In another development Saturday, Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh issued a statement condemning the attack a day earlier against a ninth century minaret in the central city of Samarra.