BAGHDAD (AFP) -A suicide bomber has killed 16 in Baghdad, a day after a wave of similar attacks left 150 dead and Al-Qaeda”s frontman in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared all-out war on the country”s Shiite Muslims.
Ten policemen were among the dead in the rush-hour attack in the southern district of Dura that targeted an emergency response police patrol team. Twenty-one people were wounded.
Another eight people were killed in other attacks across the country including four policemen and three Shiite pilgrims who were gunned down as they were walking from Baghdad to the holy city of Karbala.
A Shiite imam or religious leader was killed and three people wounded when a bomb blew up near the gate to the Rowdha Al-Wadi mosque in the main northern city of Mosul, police said.
Three unidentified bullet-riddled bodies were also discovered in the north of the capital.
The latest wave of unrest followed the deadliest day of attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday since the US-led invasion against Saddam Hussein”s regime in March 2003.
Zarqawi”s group claimed responsibility for the wave of car bombs, saying they were in revenge for a US-Iraqi crackdown on insurgents in the northern town of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border.
Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Sunni extremist who is Iraq”s most wanted man with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head, also declared "all-out war" on Iraq”s majority Shiites, according to an audiotape posted on the Internet.
Shiite civilians have been increasingly targeted by Sunni insurgents as hardliners within the ousted elite vent their anger on the long oppressed majority that now leads the government.
"Any religious group that wants to be safe from the blows of the mujahedeen (holy warriors) must (disavow) the government of (Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim) Jaafari and its crimes. Otherwise it will suffer the same fate as that of the crusaders," according to the tape, whose authenticity could not be verified.
The term crusaders refers to the occupying US-led forces that ousted president Saddam Hussein in 2003 and which back the Jaafari government.
Zarqawi”s group the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Land of Two Rivers is considered responsible for some of the most spectacular attacks in Iraq as well as the kidnapping and beheading of hostages.
Britain”s The Times newspaper, quoting an unnamed US intelligence officer, said that Zarqawi has placed insurgent groups in Baghdad under his command.
"We have got reason to believe that al-Zarqawi has now been given tactical command in the city over groups that have had to merge under him for the sake of survival," the official said.
An intelligence summary cited by The Times said that of an estimated 16,000 Sunni insurgents, 6,700 were hardcore Islamic fundamentalists supplemented by 4,000 members after an amalgamation with Jaysh Muhammad — formerly an insurgent group loyal to Saddam”s ousted Baathist regime.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad, Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Boylan, acknowledged that the rebels remained capable of spiking the level of their attacks.
"They have the ability to cause a spectacular event at the time and place of their chosing," but "this does not mean that everything has turned in a bad way," he said.
"The louder he (Zarqawi) yells, the more trouble he”s in."
Several Western officials suggested Wednesday”s attacks were indeed in response to the offensive in Tal Afal.
"We”ve seen similar spikes in Baghdad when they have been attacks in other cities in the past, specifically Fallujah," said one.
"It”s very clear Zarqawi wants to create a sectarian war," he also said, adding that it was important that both the government and the Shiite majority showed restraint "so this does not become a civil war".
Another Western official suggested that, even though this was the first time Zarqawi had openly called for all-out war, the country was "already to some extent in a civil war situation".
In the face of the attacks, US President George W. Bush and close ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in New York for a UN summit and the General Assembly, pledged to "see the job through" in Iraq.