Bloody day of violence in Iraq

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up on Thursday inside a restaurant frequented by Baghdad police, killing at least 33 people and seriously injuring 19, while a car bomb killed seven army recruits in Saddam Hussein’s hometown, police said.

The bombers struck at about 9.45am local time, when officers usually stop by the restaurant for breakfast. Police Major Abdel-Hussein Minsef said seven police officers and 26 civilians were killed in the blast and 24 others injured, among them 20 civilians.

The blasts came just before British Foreign Secretary Straw was expected in the country for a meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister’s office said.

Samiya Mohammed, a housewife who lives nearby, said she rushed outside when she heard the explosion.

“I went out to see the restaurant heavily damaged. There was bodies, mostly civilians, and blood everywhere inside the place.
This is a criminal act that only targeted and hurt innocent people having their breakfast,” she said.

There were no Americans in the area, she said.

“I do not understand why most of the time it is the Iraqis who are killed,” she added.

A car bomb in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 130km north of Baghdad, detonated in the middle of a group of men outside an Iraqi army recruiting centre, killing seven and injuring 13, police Captain Hakim al-Azawi said.

The men were former officers under Hussein who were recently invited to rejoin the military to help fill out the ranks, Azawi said.

Bodies discovered

Iraqi soldiers found the bodies of 27 people near the Iranian border on Thursday, an Iraqi officer said, adding that they appeared to have been dead for several days.

The victims were bound, shot in the head and wearing civilian clothes when they were found near Jassan, 210km south-east of Baghdad, Iraqi Army Colonel Ali Mahmoud said. The identities of the victims were not immediately known.

Groups of dead bodies—suspected victims of sectarian death squads—turn up with alarming regularity in Iraq. Officials suspect that death squads from the Shi’ite majority or the Sunni minority are responsible for the killings.

At least 566 bodies have been found since Iraq’s interim government was formed on April 28 2004 in Baghdad, according to an Associated Press count. The identities of many are unknown, but 116 are known to be Sunnis, 43 Shi’ites and one Kurd. Some are likely victims of crime—including kidnappings—rampant in some cities and as dangerous to Iraqis as political violence.

United States troops in western Iraq killed two al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders during an operation against a town on the Syrian border, a military statement said on Thursday.

US and Iraqi forces have been carrying out a large operation in the town of Husaybah, on the Syrian border about 320km west of Baghdad. Officials believe the town has become a major transit point for foreign fighters and weapons entering Iraq.

In a statement released on Thursday morning, US forces said they could confirm that two alleged regional terrorists were killed during the operation. They were identified as Asadallah and Abu Zahra.

Asadallah allegedly was “a senior al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist leader and foreign fighter facilitator” who led several terrorist cells, the statement said. Abu Zahra was reportedly a close personal friend and assistant to the head of the al-Qaeda in Iraq operation in Husaybah, the military said.

Compensation

In Baghdad, a government spokesperson said Iraq has dedicated $7-million to compensating families for their houses and cars and $35-million to governmental buildings and infrastructure projects. He said more than 900 people have been forced from their homes by the fighting.

“The Iraqi government is taking care of these families directly by supplying them with their needs,” said Laith Kubba, spokesperson for al-Jaafari. “All the roads are open and the city is safe now as the Iraqi Red Crescent is working there.”

The US military reported on Wednesday that some Iraqi civilians were killed in Husaybah when a US jet attacked a house used by insurgents last Monday, not realising non-combatants were also inside.

A marine statement quoted a local Iraqi as saying insurgents forced their way into the home, killed two residents and then locked remaining family members in a room.

“The group then used the home to launch an attack against Iraqi and US forces clearing the area,” the statement said. “Subsequently, the house was destroyed by coalition aircraft.”

Five bodies were found in the rubble, the statement added. A man and a young girl were rescued and evacuated for medical treatment.

Two car bombs exploded on Wednesday night near a Shi’ite mosque in Baghdad, killing six people, police said. Five police officers were killed when a suicide car bomber struck a patrol near Baquba, 55km north-east of Baghdad.

Police in the northern city of Kirkuk confirmed on Wednesday that the brother of a leading Sunni Arab politician was kidnapped the day before by gunmen wearing army uniforms. Hatam Mahdi al-Hassani is the brother of parliamentary Speaker Hajim al-Hassani.

Sunni insurgents have threatened members of their community who take part in politics, but Iraq also has numerous criminal gangs involved in kidnappings.

Also on Wednesday, the US command announced that a US marine died of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle two days earlier in western Iraq. The death brings to 2 055 the number of US military service members who have died since the start of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.—Sapa-AP

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