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BAGHDAD, IRAQ Grenades target Dutch Embassy

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Coalition forces prepare for increased violence as a Muslim holiday nears.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Attackers fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the Dutch Embassy in Iraq on Friday night, hitting the roof with one and setting it on fire. The blaze was quickly extinguished, and there were no injuries.
A senior U.S. officer said coalition forces were prepared to deal with any surge in violence during a coming Muslim holiday. The start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last year was accompanied by a sharp escalation in insurgent attacks.
One grenade exploded on the roof of the Dutch Embassy after nightfall, triggering a small fire. Security guards said a second grenade missed the building.
Hours after the embassy attack, the sound of strong explosions reverberated through the Iraqi capital. A U.S. military spokesman said he had no information on the cause of the blasts, which could be heard in the center of the city.
The Netherlands maintains about 1,100 troops in southern Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition. The Dutch withdrew most of their diplomats in October because of deteriorating security and maintain a staff of five Dutch nationals in Baghdad, none of whom was in the building when it was attacked, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said.
Feast of Sacrifice
Coalition officials are bracing for trouble during the four-day Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, which begins Sunday. The feast commemorates the Quranic account of God allowing the patriarch Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son Ismail. The Old Testament account says another son, Isaac, was spared.
In October, insurgents marked the beginning of the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, with a series of bloody strikes, including a rocket barrage on the Rasheed Hotel, vehicle bombings against the international Red Cross and the Nov. 12 suicide attack in Nasiriyah that killed 26 people, most of them Italian paramilitary police.
"We have done some intelligence-gathering for the near term during the Eid period, and we are fully prepared to deal with any insurgency," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for the coalition, said Friday.
He did not elaborate.
In a briefing for reporters, Kimmitt also said that during the past week, there were an average of 18 engagements each day between coalition and insurgent forces -- roughly the same as in recent weeks but down from a spike of about 50 daily clashes in November.
So far this month, 34 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, down from the 68 combat fatalities in November but more than the 25 battle deaths suffered in December.
Al-Qaida's hand
Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they have mounting evidence to suggest Al-Qaida operative Abu Musab Zarqawi has had a hand in multiple attacks in Iraq, including those on a mosque in Najaf, the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and Italy's paramilitary police station in Nasiriyah.
Another Al-Qaida member, Hassan Ghul, was arrested this month while entering northern Iraq and is believed to have met with Zarqawi to plan attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Now in U.S. custody, Ghul is believed to be cooperating with interrogators.
He is known as a facilitator who can move people and money around and is the highest ranking member of Al-Qaida to be arrested in Iraq.
The official said Ghul has also worked closely with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, purported mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Coalition forces are dealing with both Iraqi opposition and foreign insurgents, like Zarqawi. He has been described as a key link between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, but has managed to avoid capture.
The official wouldn't comment on Zarqawi's suspected location.
Mosul attack
In Mosul, residents said U.S. troops searching for three soldiers missing since last weekend came under rocket-propelled grenade fire Friday. There were no U.S. casualties. The U.S. command in Baghdad said it had no information on the report.
One of the missing soldiers disappeared Sunday when a patrol boat capsized in the Tigris River. A OH-58D Kiowa helicopter searching for that soldier crashed into the river soon afterward, and the two pilots were also missing.
Also in Mosul, an Iraqi civil defense trooper was killed and seven fellow corpsmen wounded in a drive-by shooting, according to 1st Lt. Khadir Abdullah Abed.
South of Kirkuk, six gunmen opened fire Friday on a checkpoint of the Iraqi Civil Defense Forces in Salman Beg. One attacker was killed and another injured in retaliatory fire, said Gen. Anwar Amin, the ICDC chief in Kirkuk.