/ 7 July 2007

Violence in Iraq kills 50 civilians, six US troops

A series of car bombs and mortar attacks killed 50 people in Iraq, police and local officials said on Saturday, while the United States military announced six soldiers had been killed in the past two days.

The fresh violence follows a relatively quiet few days in Iraq, where tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops are on the offensive against insurgents in a last-ditch attempt to halt the country’s slide into all-out sectarian civil war.

One car bomb ripped through a crowded outdoor market in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato, killing 20 people and wounding 40, police said. They said the toll was expected to rise as many people were shopping at the time of the Saturday morning attack.

Police said it was unclear if it was a suicide car bomb attack or a parked car had exploded.

A suicide car bomber also killed 22 people and wounded 17 others when he drove his vehicle into a group of Shi’ite Kurds near Iraq’s border with Iran on Friday evening.

Ibrahim al-Bajilam, head of the local council in Garghoush village, said the victims were returning from a funeral. The village is in Diyala province, where US and Iraqi forces last month launched an offensive against Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda.

The military said roadside bombs killed four soldiers in Baghdad, three on Friday and one on Thursday. It said two marines were killed in combat in Anbar province on Thursday.

US casualties have risen sharply in the past few months.

This has put US President George Bush under mounting pressure from opposition Democrats and increasingly from senior figures in his own Republican Party to show his war strategy is working after ordering 28 000 more troops to Iraq. There are now 157 000 US military personnel in the country.

The April-June period was the deadliest three months for US troops since the March 2003 US-led invasion. So far this month 20 soldiers have been killed, half of them in Baghdad.

Nearly 3 600 US soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

Family killed on roof

Overnight, a mortar bomb killed seven members of one family as they slept on their roof in the Sunni neighbourhood of Fadhil in central Baghdad, police said.

They said the dead included a couple and their four children, aged nine to 17. A relative was also killed.

Frequent electricity blackouts stop air conditioners from working so many Iraqis choose to sleep on roofs to stay as cool as possible when summer temperatures stay above 40C even at night.

Against a backdrop of increasingly hostile US public opinion towards the war, a senior US military commander warned against cutting the number of troops, saying Iraq’s security forces could not fight on their own.

”It would be a mess,” said Major-General Rick Lynch, commander of US forces in an area stretching from southern Baghdad through a region known as the ”Triangle of Death”.

He said the extra US troops sent to Iraq had given commanders the ability to provide greater security.

”If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away. And the Iraqi security forces aren’t ready yet to do that,” Lynch told reporters in Washington in a video link-up.

Bush has shown no public sign of changing course over Iraq.

But a pivotal moment is likely when the US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, present a report in mid-September on Iraq’s security and political progress.

The report is being viewed as a watershed, and is likely to influence debate in Washington, especially with campaigning for the 2008 US presidential race already well under way. – Reuters