BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Near-simultaneous explosions ripped
through three police stations in a southern Iraqi city today,
killing at least 40 people, including schoolchildren, and wounding
some 200, officials said.

At one station in the Saudia district of Basra, four vehicles
were seen destroyed, including two school buses. At least one of
the school buses appeared to have been full of passengers, an
Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

A police colonel said about 10 elementary school students whose
bus was passing by the Saudia station at the time of the blast were
among the dead.

The facade of the Saudia station was also heavily damaged and
there was a hole six feet deep and nine feet wide in front of the
Saudia station.

British military spokesman Squadron Leader Jonathan Arnold said
the blasts were believed to have been caused by car bombs. The
Iraqi colonel said, however, that the blast may have been caused by
a rocket attack.

Also today, about 35 Iraqi insurgents attacked U.S. Marines in
Fallujah with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, setting off
a heavy gunbattle, the military said. No casualties were
immediately reported.

Yesterday, guerrillas fired a barrage of mortar rounds at
Baghdad’s largest prison, killing 22 prisoners in an attack a
U.S. general said may have been an attempt to spark an uprising
against their American guards.

A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the northern
city of Mosul, the 100th American combat death in April, the
deadliest month since the U.S.-led invasion began in March
2003.

Ninety-two prisoners were wounded in the mortar attack on the
U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, 25 of them seriously, said Col. Jill
Morgenthaler, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

“This isn’t the first time that we have seen this
kind of attack. We don’t know if they are trying to inspire
an uprising or a prison break,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told
The Associated Press.

All of the casualties were security detainees, meaning they were
suspected of involvement in the anti-U.S. insurgency or of being
part of Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime. The prison houses
some 5,000 security prisoners.

U.S. Marines patrolling Baghdad discovered the area the mortars
were fired from, but the insurgents had fled, Morgenthaler
said.

The attack was the bloodiest against the sprawling prison
complex in western Baghdad. In August, six security prisoners were
killed in a mortar attack on the lockup, which was once
Saddam’s most notorious prison.

In addition to the 100th American killed, four U.S. soldiers
were wounded in the roadside bombing in Mosul, Lt. Col. Joseph Piek
said. Three Iraqi civilians also were wounded, he said.

At least 1,100 Iraqis have been killed in fighting since the
start of the month, according to an AP count based on reports from
hospitals and both Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Also yesterday, Iraqi security forces, some wearing flak jackets
and carrying weapons, moved back into the besieged city of
Fallujah, part of an agreement between U.S. officials and local
leaders aimed at ending hostilities. The accord calls on insurgents
to hand in their weapons and allows civilians to return.

U.S. officials have warned that if guerrillas do not surrender
their weapons, Marines are prepared to storm the city. “If
the peaceful track does not play itself out … major
hostilities will resume on short notice,” U.S. spokesman Dan
Senor said.

Announcements on U.S. military-run radio broadcast into the city
called on residents to turn in machine guns, grenade launchers,
missiles and other heavy weapons to Iraqi security forces or at the
mayor’s office. Senor would not comment on whether any
guerrillas had turned in weapons, but cautioned that “time is
running out.”

Marines were under orders not to fire on Iraqis carrying weapons
but not aiming them in case they were heading to turn them in.

Until now, Marines could shoot at anyone with a weapon or
wearing the black uniform typically worn by insurgents, said Capt.
Shannon Johnson.

One group of men was seen “actively brandishing” and
loading rocket-propelled grenade launchers yesterday, Marine Lt.
Col. Brennan Bryne said. Troops hit the group with mortars, killing
eight and destroying three vehicles, he said.

Fallujah was largely peaceful yesterday, and there were cars
filled with returning Iraqi police at a U.S. checkpoint.

Iraqi families also lined up at the checkpoint. As part of a
deal announced Monday, the U.S. military agreed to let 50 families
a day back into the city, but the lines at the checkpoint were so
long yesterday that some 150 people had to be turned away, said
Capt. Ed Sullivan.

Kimmitt acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. soldiers shot and killed
two Iraqis working for the U.S. funded Al-Iraqiya television
station a day earlier, but said the two had been filming a military
checkpoint in the central city of Samarra and failed to stop
despite repeated warning shots.

 

Cameraman Jassem Kamel, who was wounded, said the U.S. soldiers
opened fire after the group finished filming police and security
posts and were driving to film the city’s spiral minaret.

 

“We were not filming. We were just driving in a normal
car,” Kamel said.

 

Kimmitt said U.S. forces fired warning shots three times.

 

“After more warning shots, the vehicle didn’t stop
and continued to approach the base’s gate and were engaged
with direct fire,” he said.

 

The deaths raise to 26 the number of Iraqi and foreign
journalists and employees for news organizations killed in Iraq in
the past year, according to the Committee to Protect
Journalists.

 

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander of U.S. forces in
Iraq, visited soldiers outside Najaf on Tuesday and indicated there
were no immediate plans to storm the southern city and end a
standoff with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls a
large militia. Najaf is home to Iraq’s holiest Shiite
shrine.

 

“The issue of Sadr is bigger than Sadr. It’s about
the Shiites and the holy shrines. That’s the challenge I
have,” Sanchez said.

 

Also Tuesday, U.S. and coalition military leaders were working
to fill the gap left by the decision of Spain and Honduras to
withdraw their troops. Kimmitt said existing troops could be
shifted to new positions, patrol areas could be redrawn or new
troops could be brought in.

 

Spanish and Honduran troops are mostly based in or around
Najaf.

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