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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
One Day in Iraq: Story of Hawija
By Martin Asser
BBC News

As we set out on 7 June to chart in detail that day's events in Iraq, it all began very quietly - though we would have done well to note the observation of contributor Maysoon al-Damluji that insurgency attacks tend to start mid-morning.

Hawija's Dibis checkpoint after bombing

There were no reports of violence from any Iraqi city for the first few hours, and our first-person contributors made a point of saying how peaceful things were.

The first hint of bloodshed came just before 1000 local time (0600 GMT) - a police officer reported seriously wounded in a gun attack in Baghdad.

At 1030, all attention moved to Hawija, a rural area of northern Iraq, which in the last half hour had been hit by a deadly co-ordinated quadruple bombing.

Such attacks may have decreased in the past two weeks - in Baghdad there is a major drive to prevent the movement of explosives, fighters and weapons - but the Hawija attacks show that the bombers can still strike wherever they wish.

Abandoned car

"I was in front of the police station when the first blast occurred," police officer Zuhair Ramadan Ahmed told the BBC News website.

I saw three corpses that were completely charred. The scene was so tragic. These are cowardly terrorist acts that target civilians
Zuhair Ramadan Ahmed
"Then there were three more explosions about one kilometre from each other. Within 15 minutes ambulances arrived to take the wounded to hospital."

A powerful roadside bomb seemed to have acted as a signal for three suicide attackers to detonate cars rigged with explosives at security checkpoints encircling Hawija town.

A fourth car, an Opel, was found rigged with explosives, police said. Its driver - a "Lebanese man" - had escaped in another car, a white Nissan Toyota.

Officer Ahmed rushed to the scene of one of the attacks at the Dibis checkpoint.

Iraqi soldier wounded in Hawija bombing
Soldiers were the target, although most casualties were civilians
"I saw three corpses that were completely charred. The scene was so tragic. These are cowardly terrorist acts that target civilians," he said.

Dibis checkpoint - just to the west of Hawija - was the most devastating attack, with at least 10 civilians and a soldier falling victim, police said.

The other bombings were at Bagara checkpoint, also in the west, and at Aziziya checkpoint, Hawija's northern entrance, which together claimed at least another seven lives.

It is the second time within a month that Hawija has been the target - on 11 May a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body attacked a police and army recruitment centre killing at least 32 people.

Naming the dead

The authorities named four soldiers - Rabih Hamadeh, Walid Abdullah Khalaf, Ziad Khalaf and Hussein Ali - among the dead.

They also gave the names of 10 civilian victims: Ihsan Abdul Rahman, Idris Nayef Mohammad, Montather Abbas Seet, Mutazz Khalil Abdul Ghani, Iyad Omar Hussein, Imad Khalaf, Falah Abous and Mohammad Ghiath Omar.

They were aged between 15 and 50-years-old and all worked as labourers. The bombers' names and nationalities have not been given.

Map showing location of Hawija, Tikrit and Baghdad in Iraq
"We have not identified their nationalities and have not seen their faces, because they were [too badly] damaged," Officer Ahmed told the BBC.

There is a widespread belief in Hawija - a Sunni Arab town considered a stronghold of resistance to US occupation - that the perpetrators could not have been Iraqis.

"These are suicidal terrorists - this is foreign to the people of Hawija," said Officer Ahmed, blaming Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group for the attack.

He added that for the moment the people of Hawija were happy to live with the heightened security regime that have followed the attacks - whether or not they support the anti-US insurgency.

Dismal reality

There is no doubt that the attacks on Hawija were the headline event of Tuesday 7 June.

They came as Iraq's US-backed government was hailing the success of Operation Lightning intended to scotch the insurgency in and around the capital Baghdad.

Nevertheless, there were other incidents reported: a US army project west of Baghdad hit by rocket fire killing and wounding several Iraqi workers; a gun battle in Ramadi between US troops and insurgents that left two civilians dead; a Sunni Muslim cleric found dead in Basra.

But as Officer Ahmed explained, this has become the dismal reality for many people in Iraq. Hawija's markets were full, he pointed out, and students sat exams as though nothing had happened.

"The blasts took place outside the town. They were loud and heard clearly inside the city, but people carried on with their lives."


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