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Suicide Boats Attack Iraq's Vital Oil Terminal
BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Suicide bombers launched three boat attacks on Iraq's crucial Basra offshore oil terminal on Saturday, but the British military said there was no damage and no immediate reports of casualties.
Two boats exploded alongside a ship tied up at the terminal, which is around 10 km (six miles) offshore, British military spokesmen and Iraqi officials said.
A third boat was intercepted by a U.S.-led coalition ship as it approached an exclusion zone around the terminal and there was an explosion soon after it was boarded, they said.
British officials, responsible for the area around Basra where suicide car bombers killed 73 people on Wednesday, said they were still gathering details of the attacks on a terminal responsible for most of Iraq's 1.9 million barrels per day of oil exports.
Officials at Iraq's Southern Oil Company said the terminal had been shut down on security fears.
The attack capped a bloody day for Iraq, in which dozens of people were killed in rocket, bomb and mortar attacks.
Five U.S. soldiers were among the dead in the latest spate of violence in the bloodiest month for U.S.-led forces since Saddam Hussein's fall.
In one of the worst incidents, at least 13 Iraqis were killed and 30 wounded when mortar bombs struck a busy market in the Shi'ite Muslim area of Sadr City in Baghdad, witnesses and hospital sources said.
"There was blood and bodies everywhere," said Bassam Abdul Rahim.
Angry residents of Sadr City -- a powerbase of rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who U.S.-led forces have vowed to kill or capture -- held up bloodied human remains to television cameras and said U.S. helicopters had fired at the market.
They put a sign on a dead donkey saying: "This is Bush."
Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, denied U.S. involvement and said those responsible may have been aiming at an old cigarette factory nearby that was used by U.S.-led forces.
One woman was killed in a separate attack in the Sadr City area when a mortar bomb hit her home. Her daughter was wounded.
Sadr, who U.S. officials say is wanted by an Iraqi judge in connection with the murder of another cleric, is holed up with his Mehdi Army militia in the southern city of Najaf, a holy site to Iraq's Shi'ite majority.
On Friday, Sadr threatened to unleash suicide bombers if he was attacked by U.S. forces poised just outside the city.
U.S. forces say they are allowing time for Iraqi mediators to resolve the standoff.
Fourteen Iraqis were killed when a bus, traveling to Baghdad just ahead of a convoy of six U.S. military vehicles, was hit by a roadside bomb.
The five U.S. soldiers were killed in a guerrilla rocket attack on their base just north of Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman said. Six soldiers were wounded, three critically.
U.S. helicopter gunships destroyed the truck from which the rockets were launched, but there was no word of casualties among the guerrillas.
Since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March last year to oust Saddam, 515 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action -- more than a fifth of them this month.
Near the flashpoint city of Falluja, U.S. Marines said they killed around 30 Iraqi insurgents overnight after calling in air support in a firefight at a village on the banks of the Euphrates, Colonel John Coleman said.
In Saddam's home town of Tikrit, a car bomb killed three policemen and wounded 16 people -- 12 of them police. It appeared to be a suicide attack.
POLISH TROOPS KILL GUNMEN
Polish soldiers killed five Iraqi gunmen who opened fire on their patrol in the holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, Polish military officials said.
West of Baghdad, U.S. Marines were poised to resume an offensive in the Sunni city of Falluja unless guerrillas turned over heavy weapons.
Iraq's U.S. Governor Paul Bremer and General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the region, visited Falluja on Saturday.
The visit was "part of our effort to reach a peaceful resolution," Dan Senor, spokesman for the U.S.-led administration in Iraq, told a news conference. He declined to say who Bremer met or what the results were.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq who is trying to put together an interim Iraqi government to take over from U.S.-led occupation authorities on June 30, urged the Marines to hold off from a new offensive.
"I think that there is always a better solution than shooting your way into anywhere," Brahimi said.
Brahimi said he wanted the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to be dissolved on June 30 and its politicians to be excluded from the interim government of technocrats he thinks should see Iraq through to elections in January 2005.
In an interview with U.S. TV network ABC to be broadcast on Sunday, Brahimi dismissed the idea of expanding the existing 25-member council.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell in London and Haitham Haddadin in Kuwait)