Two attacks in Tikrit kill as many as 34

June 3, 2011

As many as 34 people may have died Friday in the home town of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein when a mosque was partially leveled in a midday explosion and a suicide bomber later blew himself up inside a hospital where the wounded were being treated, officials said.

The attacks, which also left scores wounded, came amid a wave of deadly bombings across Iraq in recent days apparently aimed at Sunni political and tribal leaders.

The first blast ripped through a Sunni mosque on the grounds of one of Hussein’s presidential palaces during Friday prayers. The mosque is frequented by high-ranking local officials, and many are thought to have been inside when the explosion occurred.

According to security officials, the building appeared to have been “booby-trapped from the outside by C-4 explosives.” At least 17 people were killed, including two members of Tikrit’s provincial council, an army intelligence officer and a judge, according to Police Lt. Col. Waleed Aljburi. At least 50 others were wounded.

Jamal Algilani, a member of parliament who was at the mosque at the time, blamed the central government for not ensuring security.

“The procedures that they are following don’t meet the size of the responsibility that they are in charge of,” Algilani said.

About 10 hours after the mosque attack, a man wearing an explosive vest blew himself up near the emergency room of a teaching hospital struggling to treat the wounded, according to Mohammad Qasem, a doctor at the hospital.

The force of the blast set part of the hospital on fire, knocked out the electricity and collapsed ceilings, officials said.

Local health officials reported three fatalities, but Qasem said that at least 17 people, including some doctors, were killed. Mtasher al-Samaraai, a Sunni member of parliament who was at the hospital visiting some of those injured at the mosque, said four of his bodyguards were killed.

In an interview, Qasem said the dual bombings “represent the collapse of moral Iraq.”

“If we want to rebuild the morals of this country, I believe we need 100 years,” he said. “I’ve decided to leave this county within one week.”

Security forces set up a security cordon around Tikrit and imposed a curfew. The city, located about 90 miles north of Baghdad, forms the tip of an area north and west of the capital known as the Sunni Triangle.

There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the two attacks, which came a day after five separate explosions struck downtown Ramadi, the predominantly Sunni capital of the western province of Anbar, killing at least 10 people.

Ramadi police officials say they suspect al-Qaeda in Iraq was behind the coordinated attacks. In recent years, tribal and local officials in the city have joined a movement known as the Awakening to help the U.S. military reduce the insurgent group’s influence in Anbar and elsewhere. But those efforts have left some Sunnis vulnerable to attacks.

On Friday, the Sunni commander of an Awakening branch in Diyala province was injured, along with his driver, in a car bombing in Baghdad, security officials said.

Tikrit has been especially hard hit by deadly terrorist attacks in recent months.

In January, more than 50 police officers died when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a local police recruiting center.

In late March, al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for the deaths of more than 53 people in Tikrit when uniformed attackers blasted their way into a provincial government building.

Saif Aldin is a special correspondent. Craig reported from Baghdad. Special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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