Iraq's top general said yesterday that the man who carried out Tuesday's suicide attack on a U.S. base near Mosul — in which 22 people, including six members of the Fort...
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s top general said yesterday that the man who carried out Tuesday’s suicide attack on a U.S. base near Mosul — in which 22 people, including six members of the Fort Lewis-based Stryker Brigade, died — was not a member of the Iraqi security forces, as had been widely reported.
Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari said it was possible the bomber in the mess-tent blast was wearing an Iraqi uniform, but he noted that such uniforms are sold in markets.
“It is not difficult for a person to wear one,” he said.
“Certainly [the suicide bomber] was not a member of the national guards because all of our men stationed in the base have been accounted for,” he added.
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Iraqi national guards are posted at the American base at Marez, just south of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. The attack killed 18 American service members and civilians, three Iraqi guardsmen and one unidentified “non-U.S. person,” and wounded 69 people, prompting a wide-ranging investigation into how the bomber penetrated the heavily guarded area.
Zebari spoke as the Ansar al-Sunna Army group, which has claimed responsibility for the Mosul strike, released a video on a Web site showing what was purported to be the suicide bomber bidding farewell to two comrades, and footage of what appeared to be the actual bombing.
The footage showed a black-garbed gunman — apparently the suicide bomber, identified in the tape as Abu Omar al-Mosuli — wearing an explosives belt around his body. The video gives no details about the bomber beyond his name.
In the first section of the video — with a time signature of Dec. 20, a day before the attack — three gunmen wearing black masks and clothes and holding automatic rifles, are shown sitting in front of a black banner with the group’s name on it. One of them, apparently al-Mosuli, sits on the left, wearing an explosives belt.
The gunman in the center reads a statement describing how the attack will be carried out. No mention is made of wearing a uniform. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
An image then shows a map of the base, as one of the gunmen points out locations using a military knife. One location is marked “the dining hall” in Arabic.
A later, outdoor video image — shot on Tuesday, when the attack occurred — shows a fireball rising in the distance with the accompanying sound of the explosion. A final image — shot from a vehicle driving past the base — shows the torn white tent that served as the base mess hall.
Zebari, the Iraqi general, also rejected President Bush’s criticism that some Iraqi government troops were unwilling to fight insurgents and have deserted the battlefield. Zebari said the president had been misinformed.
Last Monday at a news conference, Bush said: “There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield — that is unacceptable.”
Asked about Bush’s comments, Zebari replied: “I think the president received misleading information.”
Zebari, Iraq’s only four-star general, insisted none of his troops had deserted from combat. But he acknowledged that some recruits undergoing training had quit after being told they would be posted to the restive city of Fallujah, which was taken in a U.S.-led assault in November.
“Not a single soldier ran away from the battlefield [in Fallujah]. It was not a difficult battle. Fallujah was cleaned and the number of our martyrs [fatalities] was only seven,” Zebari said.
In the interview at his heavily guarded headquarters in downtown Baghdad, Zebari said Iraqi forces are getting stronger every day and that he expected them to be capable of replacing the Americans within six months to a year.
“The insurgents are getting weaker. Hardly a day passes without detaining or killing dozens of them,” he said.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi recently said the government commands almost 100,000 trained and combat-ready Iraqis, including police and national guard and army troops, and has accelerated the development of special forces and a counterterrorist strike force.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the number of trained Iraqi troops is going to increase by 45,000 by elections set for Jan. 30.