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U.N. Bombing Probe Focuses on Security Guards

U.N. Bombing Probe Focuses on Security Guards

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. investigators probing the bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters focused Friday on the possibility that former Iraqi intelligence agents working as guards in the compound may have assisted the attackers, a U.S. official said.

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police worked together searching for human remains in the rubble of the bombed headquarters, as 86 seriously wounded U.N. workers waited to be airlifted out of Iraq for medical care abroad. The blast killed at least 23 people.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two U.S. soldiers Friday. One serviceman was killed in action on Thursday in al Hilla, 34 miles south of Baghdad, said Spc. Margo Doers. The second casualty was from the 1st Armored Division based in Baghdad. Doers gave no further details of their deaths.

FBI investigators explored the possible role played by the United Nations' security guards, who were selected by Saddam Hussein's regime before the war and reported on the movements of U.N. staff at the Canal Hotel compound, which served as a base for weapons inspectors, a U.S. official in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity. The United Nations continued to employ the guards after the war.

Questioning the guards has become a priority because of their ties to Saddam's intelligence apparatus, the source said. He said investigators were checking to see if any guards failed to report for duty on Tuesday.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack against the United Nations. The group calling itself the "Armed Vanguards of a Second Muhammed Army" pledged "to continue fighting every foreigner (in Iraq) and to carry out similar operations" in a statement sent to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel.

There was no way to verify the authenticity of the claim. Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said he was aware of a group with a similar name, but did not elaborate.

He warned that terrorism "is emerging as the number one security threat" in Iraq.

The al-Qaida-linked group Ansar al-Islam, based in northern Iraq since before the war, has "definitely established" cells in Baghdad, and foreign fighters have been entering the country from Syria, Abizaid told a Washington news conference.

As the United Nations tried to recover its footing in Iraq after the bombing, the United States made a new push for a U.N. resolution calling on nations to send troops to help American forces in Iraq.

But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, underlined that Washington would not surrender any control in Iraq to the United Nations -- a step diplomats say is necessary to build a robust international force.

The U.S. military wants to broaden the coalition in part to get more soldiers on the ground to help with security, but also to make the American occupation more multinational. U.S. troops have come under constant guerrilla attack in past months and blame Saddam loyalists.

Thursday's deaths brought the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq to 179, 32 more than in the first Gulf War.

Since President Bush declared an end to formal combat on May 1, 135 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, including combat deaths. In all, 273 U.S. soldiers have died of all causes since the beginning of military operations in Iraq.

Six U.S. soldiers were wounded Friday when their 5-ton truck ran over a roadside bomb on the outskirts of Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad, 4th Infantry Division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.

The victims were evacuated in a helicopter to an Army field hospital north of Tikrit, where one was in critical condition awaiting surgery, she said. The others were in stable condition, she added.

U.S. troops shot and killed one Iraqi who opened fire with an AK-47 rifle at a patrol early Friday, she said. It was unclear where the shooting happened and there were no U.S. casualties.

The United Nations, despite the bombing, will not increase the number of U.S. soldiers standing guard outside its facilities from the dozen or so it had before the attack, said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Iraq coordinator for U.N. humanitarian programs.

"It's not that we have anything against the coalition forces, but you do realize the presence of coalition forces does intimidate some of the people we need to speak to and work with," he told reporters at the blast site.

"We will always remain a soft target," he said. "We are conscious of that, but that is the way we operate. We are an open organization."

He said the United Nations was temporally moving about 100 support and administrative staff -- out of a total work force of 300 -- to Jordan and Cyprus.

Two U.N. employees were still unaccounted for and an unknown number of people -- visitors to the building -- were still buried in the rubble, he said. The U.N.'s official death toll stood at 22, including the U.N.'s chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. However, independent checks by The Associated Press at area hospitals showed at least 23 died in the blast.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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