Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Suicide Truck Bomber Kills 17 in Iraq

Yahoo! News
Suicide Truck Bomber Kills 17 in Iraq
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

A suicide truck bomber attacked a crowded market in Tal Afar late Tuesday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 35 in a city cited by President Bush as a success story in battling insurgents.

The bombing occurred after incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he had almost finished assembling a Cabinet, the final step in establishing a national unity government. U.S. officials had predicted insurgents would step up attacks to try to block the new administration.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said al-Maliki would soon launch a four-part plan to restore order by securing Baghdad, Basra and eight other cities, promoting reconciliation, building public confidence in the police and army and disbanding sectarian militias.

The truck bomber struck about 8:30 p.m. as shoppers in Tal Afar were scurrying to finish their purchases before closing, according to police Col. Abdul-Karim Mohammed, who gave the casualty figures.

The director of the city hospital, Saleh Qado, said 20 people were killed and 70 wounded, and that U.S. Army medics provided emergency treatment at the scene before loading the injured into ambulances.

Lt. Col. Ali Rasheed of the Interior Ministry said the main target may have been a police station within the market area of the city, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.

At least 500 Iraqis have been killed by vehicle bombs in 2006, out of a total of at least 3,525 Iraqis killed in war-related violence this year. These numbers include civilians, government officials, and police and security officials, and are considered only a minimum based on Associated Press reporting.

In March, Bush praised American efforts to stabilize Tal Afar, saying he had "confidence in our strategy" and that success in the city "gives reason for hope for a free Iraq."

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an operation in September to clear the city of insurgents — the second such attempt in a year. However, by the end of September, a woman suicide bomber slipped into a crowd of recruits, killing at least six people and wounding 30. Since then, the city has been hit by repeated suicide attacks.

Tal Afar's population is a volatile mix of Turkomen, Kurds and Arabs, which complicates efforts to control the city. Trouble started in 2003 when Kurdish fighters took over Tal Afar, angering the majority Turkomen population. Insurgents are also believed to have used Tal Afar as a hub for smuggling weapons and fighters from Syria, about 90 miles to the west.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. command reported that an American soldier was killed the day before in a bombing in Baghdad. At least 2,423 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an AP count.

DynCorp International announced that one of its American employees, Rudy Mesa, was killed in the same attack. Mesa, an Army veteran and retired police officer in San Marcos, Texas, had been training Iraqi police, DynCorps said.

Such attacks have added urgency to the task of finalizing a government that will include Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The Bush administration hopes such a government can calm sectarian tensions and lure disaffected Sunnis away from the insurgency so U.S. troops can begin heading home.

Al-Maliki said he expects to complete his Cabinet within a few days — the final step in establishing the government. Al-Maliki told reporters that representatives of the country's political parties had agreed on what factions would hold the "main posts," including the Interior Ministry long under fire for alleged human rights abuses against Sunni Arabs.

The Shiite alliance was expected to retain the Interior Ministry and give the post to its controversial incumbent, Bayan Jabr of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, according to several Iraqi officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are secret.

Sunnis have sharply criticized Jabr's ministry for alleged human rights abuses, including the kidnapping, torture and killings of civilians. Many Sunnis believe Interior Ministry forces have been infiltrated by Shiite militias.

The Kurds said they had no objection to Jabr, but Shiite officials said they were meeting resistance from Sunni Arabs, who believed they had received assurances that the Shiites would nominate an independent rather than a member of one of the big Shiite parties.

In an interview Monday with the AP, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "everybody knows that the Interior Ministry is a problem" and must not be "used for sectarian purposes." She stopped short of opposing Shiite control.

"But the Iraqis have said that they want the choice of the so-called power ministries, the critical ministries, to be based on competence and based on the ability of the people to gain broad confidence, not on party affiliations," Rice said.

Al-Maliki has promised to appoint defense and interior ministers without ties to militias. In Iraq, however, virtually every major militia leader denies he runs a militia. Jabr's Supreme Council insists it converted its Badr Brigade into an unarmed political organization, a claim widely disputed by Sunnis.

Shiite independent Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear physicist who lived for years in exile in Canada, was the top candidate to head the oil ministry, officials said.

While the politicians haggled, the killings continued.

The bodies of 17 Iraqis were found Tuesday, police said, apparent victims of sectarian death squads. Police said five were found in the capital; one in northern Iraq; eight, including a 10-year-old boy, in a river 30 miles south of Baghdad; and three Interior Ministry police commandos were found dead in Mahawil, 45 miles south of the capital.

In other violence Tuesday, according to police:

• Four people were killed in drive-by shootings in Baghdad, including a Sunni cleric.

• A roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded two in the capital.

• Two security guards were killed by unknown gunmen at an oil refinery in Basra.


Associated Press correspondents Tarek El-Tablawy and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.