June 27, 2003

1 American Dead, 2 Missing in Iraq
* The soldiers are feared abducted. Violence against occupation forces spreads to local utility workers.

By H‚ctor Tobar and Alissa J. Rubin, Times Staff Writers

Two U.S. soldiers disappeared from an outpost north of the capital and were believed abducted and another American was killed Thursday in the latest violence against the U.S.-led occupation.

In other guerrilla-style attacks, two Iraqi electrical workers were ambushed, a day after a power plant manager was slain, raising fears that locals cooperating with foreign authorities are now considered targets.

There were few details on the missing soldiers, who had been stationed at an observation post in Balad, north of Baghdad. The U.S. Central Command said the soldiers and their Humvee were discovered missing Wednesday when they failed to respond to a communications check. It said that a search was underway.

The American killed Thursday was part of a special operations force that came under attack southwest of Baghdad. The attack also wounded eight members of the force. Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported that a Marine died Wednesday in a vehicle accident while responding to an ambush on fellow troops.

Americans and their British allies have continued to take losses since the principal fighting ended May 1, but the first indication that Iraqis also are in danger came this week.

The Al Jazeera satellite channel released a video purportedly made by Iraqi Islamist guerrillas who declared that any Iraqi who worked with the American authorities would be assassinated.

That threat was seemingly fulfilled when two Iraqi electrical workers were killed in a highway ambush as the violence against troops spread to civilians who are involved with infrastructure.

Constant power outages are proving to be the Achilles' heel of the U.S. occupation of this city of 5 million people, fueling frustration with the American civilian and military authorities as Baghdad residents swelter in triple-digit heat.

"It's a further attempt to disrupt normal life and create general uncertainty for ordinary people," said John Sawers, the Briton who is second in command in the American-led civilian authority here. "There have been both threats and actual attacks against people in key positions to deliver services."

U.S. and Iraqi officials said groups of armed fighters from Saddam Hussein's dismantled Baath Party and his security agencies have formed a loose guerrilla network called the Return, although it was unknown whether this group was involved in the attacks.

Sawers said the authority believes that "remnants of the Iraqi regime" could be responsible for the latest attacks against civilians, adding that "we have no direct information yet about who is responsible."

But as far as co-workers are concerned, politics probably played a part in the killing of Haifa Aziz Daoud, manager of the Karkh Electrical Distribution Complex, which sends power to 62 substations north of the Tigris River. On Wednesday morning, three men pulled up to her front door, rang the bell and shot her three times in the chest.

"Perhaps every one of us is a target to some people with political motives," said Ghalib Basheer Mousawi, who worked as Daoud's deputy at the complex. "Just as they are killing the electric generators, and the pipelines of oil, they are killing the people who are working in those places."

A pipeline carrying crude oil to Iraq's biggest refinery was also attacked Thursday, the fifth attack on oil and gas pipelines in the last two weeks. Beshir Khalif, chief engineer and manager of the Baghdad South power plant, said the attacks on the electrical system, the pipelines and the people who operate them were part of a sophisticated campaign.

"This is to make the workers nervous, to close small workshops, to make stores shut their doors, to make the students unable to read because it's dark and hot," he said.

"And all of that makes the people nervous."

The attack on the electrical engineers occurred at 7:30 a.m. Thursday on a stretch of highway running past the Kubaisi Mosque in the southwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah. The engineers, witnesses and U.S. soldiers on the scene said they were part of a convoy of civilian vehicles escorted by two U.S. military Humvees.

Ammar Fleih, a 34-year-old worker at a nearby garage, said he arrived at the highway after hearing the explosion and saw a column of black smoke near the divider of the highway that runs past the mosque. He said he saw at least two wounded Iraqi civilians stumble from a white sport utility vehicle.

"We came to help, but the Americans were already there," Fleih said. "One of [the civilians] was already dead."

American soldiers examining the scene of the assault Thursday afternoon found an unexploded mortar round a few yards from the scene.

"They were three engineers of the power company," said Lt. Col. Raad Abbas of the Iraqi police. "Three cars were hit with an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade."

Towed to the Khadra police station in Amiriyah, the electrical engineers' white SUV bore the distinctive sky-blue license plates of Iraqi government cars and the label "Electricity." The driver's side was pitted from the impact of an apparent shrapnel explosion.

Sitting inside the police station, looking at the destroyed vehicle, Oday Abbas offered his own explanation of what happened, one that expresses the frustrations of those Iraqis who are most angry at the occupation.

The victims, he said, "are like collaborators, spies of the Americans," said Abbas, who was inquiring about some recently arrested friends. "The occupation is a catastrophe. Saddam used to be better."

Daoud, the electrical plant director, was a mother of six. She was making breakfast for her children when a double-cab pickup truck with three men in it pulled up outside.

One man rang the bell at the front gate, and Daoud's 17-year-old daughter went out to answer it. Seeing electric company plates on the vehicle, she thought that it was someone from work and called her mother.

After being shot, Daoud slumped forward over the gate and died within minutes, before her family could get her to a hospital, according to Mohammed Kadhim, her brother-in-law. Kadhim was staying in the apartment while the rest of the family went to the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, where her parents live.

"Haifa was a mujahed [fighter] for the Iraqi people," Kadhim said. "Now she is a martyr. She only cared about getting electricity for the Iraqi people."

Since news about the attacks on civilians was just beginning to filter out, it was hard to predict reactions among the 39,000 workers in the Iraqi electrical industry. But several managers said some employees might be frightened and refuse to go to work.

Already many workers are nervous because angry crowds have been known to march on their local electrical plants when the power goes out. In a moment such a crowd can become a violent mob, Mousawi said.

The attackers are widely believed to be remnants of the former regime, but no one is sure who is involved or how coordinated their actions have been. "There is no other possibility other than Saddam regime people," said Khalif, of the Baghdad South power plant.

"If someone wants electricity and he attacks an electrical plant, it makes the shortages worse," Khalif said.

"That means whoever is doing it is doing it for political reasons, and there is no political reason except that he was in the Saddam regime."

Original URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/complete/la-fg-iraq27jun27002433,1,7714931.story?coll=la-iraq-complete

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